The small town of Fitzroy Crossing is located on the Fitzroy River, on the southern edge of the Kimberley, in the north of Western Australia. In recent decades it has emerged as one of the most vital and individual of Aboriginal art-centres.
The area was once a major livestock hub and a destination for deracinated Aboriginals from across the Great Sandy Desert, abandoning their traditional nomadic existence, and seeking menial work on the local cattle stations. The legacy of that history has enriched the cultural life of the area, bringing together peoples from many different – but related - language-groups (including Walmajarri and Wangkajungka), to join the traditional owners of the land, the Gooniyandi and Bunuba.
With the spread of the Desert Painting movement through the Kimberley in the 1980s, art projects were established at Fitzroy Crossing, and the strength and diversity of the region’s aboriginal inheritance found expression in a remarkably strong and varied visual culture. Amongst the significant artists to emerge, during that first wave of creative engagement, were Jimmy Pike, David Downs and Butcher Cherel. And the richness of that tradition has been sustained.
The art of Fitzroy Crossing is unique in its range of styles and techniques – from traditional ‘dot-and-circle’ depictions of the land and its creation stories, to representational images of everyday life in the ‘station days’ and the present.
Rebecca Hossack first visited the community in 1987. And the following year she mounted a major exhibition of Fitzroy Crossing work at the gallery in London: Songlines XVII: Mangkaja. Eight of the senior artists came over for the show: Butcher Cherel, Tommy May, Spider Snell, Dolly Snell, Jukuna Mona Chuguna, Stumpy Brown and Janet Williams.
Besides exploring London, the artists expressed a wish to visit the birthplace of Captain Cook (Whitby, in North Yorkshire) to see, as they put it, ‘where the trouble started.’ They were impressed by the modesty of the tiny two-room cottage where he was born.
Since 1988, the gallery has maintained the connection, holding a number of significant exhibitions by Fitzroy Crossing artists including solo shows by Jimmy Pike, Jukuna Mona Chuguna, Butcher Cherel and Mervyn Street.