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Yolgnu painter and rights campaigner Gawirrin Gumana AO will be honoured with the most prestigious career achievement prize in Indigenous arts at the Australia Council for the Arts’ 2009 National Indigenous Arts Awards.

The $50,000 Red Ochre Award, to be presented by award-winning film director Baz Luhrmann, recognises Gawirrin Gumanaís distinguished contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts at home and abroad.

The Australia Councilís Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board Chair, Dr Mark Bin Bakar, paid tribute to Mr Gumana’s impressive career, which has seamlessly combined artistic excellence with his spiritual and political concerns.

“The Red Ochre Award celebrates the achievements of those who have fought to keep Indigenous culture strong. There can be no more worthy recipient than Gawirrin, who has been creating art in non-ceremonial contexts for more than 60 years, longer than any other living artist,” he said.

“As well as through his art, Gawirrin’s contribution to his culture has been substantial and enduring, helping to secure land and sea rights for his people as well as working as a theologian and scholar.

“He joins a who’s who of eminent Indigenous artists to receive the Red Ochre Award, including Doris Pilkington Garimara, Jimmy Chi, Banduk Marika, Tom E Lewis, and the late Bob Maza and Justine Saunders,” Dr Bakar said.

Mr Gumana is the most senior living artist in North East Arnhem land. He is the oldest surviving artist who contributed to the Yirrkala Church panels that inspired the famous bark petition of 1963, which put Australians on notice of land claims predating European arrival in 1788.

Mr Gumana’s paintings have been included in major local and international collections since 1966, and he was awarded the Telstra National Aboriginal Art Award in 2002. A scholar in theological studies, Mr Gumana was ordained as a Minister of the Uniting Church in 1992. His skills as an interpreter were pivotal to several political movements including the 1968 Supreme Court action and the homelands movement, where he led his clan back to their traditional Gangan country.

Four other awards are being presented at the 2009 National Indigenous Art Awards:

  • The inaugural Qantas Emerging and Young Artist Award will be shared between two artists ñ painter and printmaker Jessica Birk (NSW) and printmaker Fiona Elisala (Torres Strait).
  • A three month residency at the Cite Internationale des Artes in Paris to street artist Reko Rennie (Vic.).
  • A three month residency at the Albers Foundation in Connecticut, USA to painter and media artist Gordon Hookey (Qld).

Media contact – Emma Heath 0413 768 588 or



Brianna Roberts


(02) 9215 9030


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