28 February 2022

$1.2 million Rover Thomas artwork finds home at National Museum

| Aiden Rothnie
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Michael Blanche in front of painting

Director of Victoria’s Lauraine Diggins Fine Art Gallery Michael Blanche has gifted a major $1.2 million artwork to the National Museum of Australia. Photo: Supplied.

One of the late Indigenous artist Rover Thomas’ most significant works, Jabbanunga aka Goorialla or The Rainbow Serpent, will have a permanent home in Canberra, following a $1.2 million gift to the National Museum of Australia.

Director of Victoria’s Lauraine Diggins fine art gallery Michael Blanche made the donation in honour of his late wife, Lauraine Diggins OAM, who was an internationally-respected art dealer and champion of Indigenous art.

“Lauraine was determined to do whatever she could and use her considerable influence to ensure that many of the important artworks created in Australia and overseas became part of the national estate,” Mr Blanche said.

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National Museum council chair Warwick Smith AO expressed his gratitude for the gift.

“I know that future visitors will be entranced by this magnificent painting and the important cultural story it depicts,” he said.

The head of the National Museum’s Indigenous Knowledges Curatorial Centre, Margo Ngawa Neale, said the artwork depicted the shared history of Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians.

“This master work celebrates Indigenous knowledge, the contemporary relevance of ancestral stories, and furthers our understanding of the Dreaming as something continuous and ever present,” she said.

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“It is portentously powerful as Rover masterly drew into its ancestral and spiritual domain issues of critical contemporary relevance around ecological, environmental, climatic and political concerns.”

Many elders in the Kimberley interpreted the destruction of Darwin during Cyclone Tracy as an act caused by the wrath of the Rainbow Serpent. The catastrophe was understood as a sign to strengthen cultural practices weakened through colonisation.

Jabbanunga aka Goorialla depicts the Rainbow Serpent penetrating the earth, following a subterranean journey to the sea. After destroying Darwin during Cyclone Tracy, the Rainbow Serpent travelled underground, fulfilling his destiny by returning to the sea from whence he
came.

Mr Thomas has a significant international reputation and his artworks appear in many national and state galleries across Australia.

This work joins three other Rover Thomas paintings in the National Museum’s historical collection.

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