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Harold Joseph Thomas (Bundoo)

Telstra Art Award - $50,000

Northern Territory artist Harold Joseph Thomas (Bundoo) is the winner of Australia’s most prestigious Indigenous art prize for 2016.

Thomas’ work Tribal abduction was selected as the overall winner of the 33rd Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) from more than 240 entries and 75 finalists.

“I’m just overwhelmed and honoured to receive such a prestigious award, which shows the excellence of artists and craftspeople throughout Aboriginal and Torres Strait Australia” said  Thomas.

Darwin artist, Thomas is a descendant of the Luritja and Wambai peoples of Central Australia. Taken from his family at the age of 7, Thomas was sent to an Anglican institution for Aboriginal boys and was later fostered by an Anglican priest and his family. Thomas is an acclaimed contemporary artist, most known for his design of the Aboriginal flag in 1971.

His winning Telstra NATSIAA work, Tribal abduction tells of the ‘part destruction of an Aboriginal family’. Speaking about this poignant work Thomas notes, “It’s a setting in outback Australia emphasising the human form entwined to tell the story of pathos and drama, especially the abduction of children from their tribal family. Paintings on the subject of conflict between black and white people in Australia murmur deeply in the consciousness of us all. The subject I have painted is about the part destruction of an Aboriginal family. As we know, when children are taken, it leads to diabolical emotional consequences and despair".

Harold Joseph Thomas (Bundoo), Tribal abduction, 2016, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas,

134cm x 214cm.

Judge's Comments


Harold Thomas’ Tribal abduction tells of the ‘part destruction of an Aboriginal family’. The potency of the subject matter coupled with Thomas’ practiced hand and classical composition make the work a compelling choice this year. The tension and anger in the work is contrasted with the dread and fear often espoused in accounts of ‘stolen’ children. Particularly, the painting depicts the violence present in the act. It also speaks to the legacy of generational trauma and this positions the work both as an affecting history painting and a blazing commentary on the ongoing manifestations of colonial brutality. This winning work by Harold Thomas presents a raw truth which provides space for cathartic reflection. 

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani

Telstra General Painting Award - $5,000

A long time ago two women went to the top of the hill near Antara. They were singing Inma song and hitting the rock with a punu stick, and singing for Maku Tjuta (enough witchetty grubs for everyone). Afterwards, there was the biggest mob of Maku (witchetty grubs).

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani, Antara, 2015, Synthetic polymer paint on linen. 122cm x 300cm.

Judge's Comments


The judges were instantly drawn to the bold composition of Betty Pumani’s Antara, the witchetty grub story. This work achieves a great sense of fluidity and movement that is not always present in field paintings of this scale. The impressive choice of palette creates an elaborate tonal depth that pulls the viewer into the work.

John Mawurndjul

Telstra Bark Painting Award - $5,000

This place is Djang, a secret sacred site, where in the earliest of times, the creator being Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent, made itself present. The white arch depicted in the work is a rock inside the waterhole, the bone of the Serpent and on a profane level a rainbow across the sky, associated with the Rainbow Serpent.

John Mawurdjul, Dilebang, 2016, Natural earth pigments on bark. 151cm x 86cm

Judge's Comments


John Mawurndjul’s masterful hand shone through in this category with his intricate line work in Dilebang. His accomplished technique has ensured that there are no weak points across the surface of the bark that strongly details the sacred site of Djang and the creation by Ngalyod the rainbow serpent. This beautiful work is a reminder of why artists still choose bark as a platform to express who they are.

Robert Pau

Telstra Work on Paper Award - $5,000

Battle of Bikar is from the series “Black wars of Torres Strait” I am currently producing. The battles that occurred in the Torres Strait were not meaningless merciless killings, they were primary based on protection of territory and resources. This battle happened on Erub (Darnley Island) in the eastern Torres Strait.

Robert Pau, Battle of Bikar, 2016, Vinyl cut relief print on paper. 72cm x 108cm

Judge's Comments

The cinematic composition of the battle scene, dense with detail of the Erub people fighting in the Battle of Bikar, is the judge’s first impression of this work. It evokes classical war painting, depicting a central staged battle filled with a vista of busy action. We witness the warrior figures across the sky calling the people to fight. It is a work of strength, power and fighting for Country.

Nicole Monks

Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award (sponsored by Telstra) - $5,000

I saw a bird stuck inside a building, frantically trying to escape. Exhausted, the bird eventually settled itself by looking out the window to the outside world. After a while, the bird began to nest and create a home. Like this bird, I too find myself trapped between worlds.

Nicole Monks, We are all animals, 2016, Performance. 80cm x 80cm x 80cm.

Image courtesy of Lachlan Humphreys.

Judge's Comments


The judges were incredibly moved by Nicole Monks’ performance work, We are all animals, a powerful attempt to negotiate a space as an Aboriginal women caught between two worlds. This deeply personal and heartfelt work critically looks at colonial legacy. Monks sheds the trappings of the wool, through the use of the sheepskin covering her head, whilst wearing an elaborate emu feather skirt. Recovering and reflecting, her pose evokes museology and archival photography. Finally, shedding the skirt Monks solemnly leaves, and the skins of her culture and of her oppression are left in situ.

Ishmael Marika

Telstra Youth Award - $5,000

In October 2015 I travelled with other Indigenous artists to Lake Mungo and we camped near the old people’s camp. I felt the energy of the sunlight.

Isamael Marika, Sunlight energy II, 2016, video

Judge's Comments


Sunlight energy II by Ishmael Marika is a clear, well-constructed film that gives the viewer a strong sense of the way light influences the space around us. The work poetically shares Marika’s experience of feeling the energy from the sunlight at Lake Mungo while also incorporating the elements of earth, wind, fire and water and capturing how sunlight informs each.




Telstra have been the principal sponsor for 25 years. NATSIAA is also supported by the Northern Territory Government and the Australia Council for the Arts, as part of its Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy.

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