Derby, Western Australia
Born c.1920, Beverley Springs, Western Australia
Lives and works Derby, Western Australia
'I was born in Ngarangarri country that is now part of Beverley Springs Station (central Kimberley). Ngarangarri is the honey dream: ngara minbinya, honey is good tucker.
I was a small baby when my mother died. My dad took me around the bush in a bark coolamon and found a woman who was breastfeeding a little boy. That little boy and I went share for her ngaman (milk). She was a good woman. That is why I am still alive today.
Young kid time I footwalked all over Ngarangarri and Winyiduwa (clan estates) with my dad and grandfather. They were good men with a spear. We had too much tucker, yali and walamba (kangaroos), kananganja (emu), manan-gut (crocodile), fish and cherramba (freshwater prawn), manganda (yam) and manbada (water lily).
Later on I worked on cattle stations mustering and tailing bullocks. Riding tail we got covered in dust and the smell of bullocks. Woman worked all day like a man them days. Then the man wanted the woman to work all night in the swag.
My dad and grandfather used to paint the really Wandjina in the caves, and I used to watch them. Now I am having a go at painting on canvas. Painting brings back good memories of footwalking the country.'
As a Ngarinyin woman, painting plays a central role in the remembering process that connects Ward to her country and culture. For thousands of years, the Ngarinyin have used the painting of Wandjina spirits to forge a direct connection to the Dreaming. During the Dreaming, Wandjina controlled the elements and were instrumental in shaping the landscape and law. The Wandjina left their images on the cave walls in order to watch over the land and the Ngarinyin people. By repainting the Wandjina, the Ngarinyin create a direct and unbroken link to the Dreamtime. It is with immense fondness that Ward recalls watching her father and grandfather paint these spirit figures on the cave walls, and it is with great reverence that she continues this tradition on canvas.
Ward also paints ‘bush tucker’. Ward’s bush tucker is generally restricted to the painting of ‘sugarbags’ or bush honey pods. These ‘sugarbags’ are Ward’s personal totem and connect her to the country of her birth. “I was born in Ngarangarri country,” she declares. “Ngarangarri is the honey dream; ngara minbinya, honey is good tucker.” Ward’s sugarbags are depicted as an array of brightly coloured dots, often organised into irregularly shaped squares. As a simultaneous symbol of the physical, spatial and the personal, these seemingly abstract shapes create a complex metaphor for identity and country.
Art Gallery of Western Australia
Australian Public Services Commission Collection, Canberra
Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia
City of Stirling Collection, Stirling, WA
King Edward Memorial Hospital Collection, Perth, WA
Macquarie University, NSW
Museum of Western Australia, Perth, WA
Princess Margaret Hospital Collection, Perth, WA
Royal Perth Hospital, Perth, WA
University of Western Sydney, NSW