Aboriginal art on a car? How an Indigenous artist and an adventurer met in the 1930 wet season in Kakadu.

Joakim Goldhahn, Paul S.C. Tacon, Sally K. May

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Inspired by an intriguing photograph of a painted Bean car with
Aboriginal designs, this paper explores the cross-cultural encounter
between the renowned adventurer Francis Birtles (1881–1941)
and Aboriginal artist Nayombolmi (c. 1895–1967). Meeting by
chance during one of Birtles’ overland explorations by motorcar
and one of Nayombolmi’s annual walking route journeys, the two
men came together in an area that would become synonymous
with the Imarlkba gold mine in present day Kakadu National Park.
Their acquaintance, based on mutual needs and curiosity, provides
a rare insight into cross-cultural colonial relationships in this
frontier region. Beginning in 1929 their interactions continued
intermittently as the Birtles-initiated Imarlkba gold mine developed
and Badmardi people (and others) joined the workforce. By
revisiting the well-known photograph of Birtles’ painted Bean car,
this paper uses a variety of sources, most notably old and new
oral history recordings, to investigate Aboriginal histories and
colonial cross-cultural engagements in remote northern Australia,
and how newly introduced technologies and material culture
could be charged with new meanings.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages3
Specialist publicationThe Conversation
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2021


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