Home National museum The National Museum of Australia’s latest acquisition depicts the wrath of the Rainbow Serpent in the form of Cyclone Tracy

The National Museum of Australia’s latest acquisition depicts the wrath of the Rainbow Serpent in the form of Cyclone Tracy


In 1975, following the destruction of Darwin by Cyclone Tracy, Rover Thomas had a series of powerful dreams in which the spirit of his recently deceased aunt visited him.

In many dreams she told him that when she died her spirit had probed the devastation caused by the cyclone and that she had visited him to share the lesson she had learned.

His message propelled the famous Kimberley artist into action, leading to the creation of one of his major works Jabanunga Goorialla (The Rainbow Serpent).

According to Thomas, who died in 1998, his aunt told him that the Rainbow Serpent was so angered by the weakening of indigenous cultural practices due to colonization, that it plunged into the earth on its way to the sea. , destroying the city in its wake. .

“What he was doing was actually studying the absolute torture inflicted on mother earth. The mining holes, the cattle industry, all the other impacts of colonization on the culture and on the country,” said Margo Neale, director of the Center for Indigenous Knowledges. at the National Museum of Australia.

Margo Neale says there’s no better way to understand another culture than through her art.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Cyclone Tracy swept through Darwin in the early hours of Christmas Eve in 1974. It killed 71 people and caused the destruction of around 80% of the town.

Ms Neale said the spirit of Rover Thomas’ aunt sent a message that has echoed through the generations.

“The lesson was [that] we have to strengthen the culture because this is only the beginning of what will happen to our culture and our country,” she said.

Ms Neale said the Rainbow Serpent signifies an all-powerful being.

But Ms Neale said the painting depicts more than how Cyclone Tracy originated as the Rainbow Serpent’s retaliation.

“It’s about environmental degradation, it’s about climate change, it’s about the imposition of other cultural values ​​on, in this case, the early cultures of this country. is about our shared past and therefore about how to forge a shared future by acknowledging and knowing this kind of thinking,” Ms Neale said.

“It touches on the critical contemporary issues that people around the world, let alone Australia, are facing.”

Work donated to the National Museum of Australia

Close-up of an Aboriginal artwork.  It features circles intended to symbolize mining pits.
The concentric circles in the painting are thought to represent the topographic features and huge mining pits of the Pilbara, near where Thomas lived.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

The $1.2 million artwork was recently donated to the National Museum of Australia in memory of Indigenous art champion Lauraine Diggins.

Museum director Mathew Trinca said Ms Diggins’ husband Michael Blanche donated the work “recognizing its power, its history, its importance to the nation”.

“He did this both to honor the artist but also for his late wife Lauraine Diggins,” Dr Trinca said.

The painting is nearly 3 meters long, which Ms Neale said only added to the message he was sharing.

The piece will join three other works by Rover Thomas as part of the National Historical Collection at the National Museum and will be ready for public viewing in the coming months.

Ms Neale said it was crucial to exhibit Indigenous artwork because there was no better way to understand another culture than through their art.

“So for me to have this painting in this museum, which although aesthetically beautiful, has much deeper and deeper messages and is particularly suited to what we’re trying to do at the National Museum of Australia,” he said. she declared.