National Library of Australia

Indigenous drawings: Billingee and Daisy Bates

Billingee Drawings 1907

with annotations by Daisy Bates (1859–1951)

pencil and coloured crayon on paper; each 24.0 x 36.5cm

J S Battye Library of West Australian History, State Library of Western Australia
Drawings 1907

Early last century, Billingee, an Aboriginal man from Jajjala, near Broome, drew a series of striking illustrations in a commercial drawing book.

His drawing materials were European but his subject matter was his people. Outlined in pencil and coloured in yellow, green, pink and red crayons, the drawings depict hunting, fishing, social interaction and totemic designs, highlighting the diversity of cultural objects of different Aboriginal groups and their relationships with Europeans.

Controversial anthropologist Daisy Bates (1863–1951), also known for her welfare work among Aboriginal people, made annotations describing the object or scene that Billingee had portrayed, along with the language and terms used by the artist and his people, the Ngumbal and Jukun-speaking peoples. Billingee’s country, and that of his relations, extended from Beagle Bay, about 120 kilometres north of Broome, to Roebourne, about 620 kilometres to the southwest.

Billingee appeared to want to reveal his people’s cultural heritage, and to indicate to the Governor of Western Australia (for whom the drawings were made) his social standing among his people.

Essentially a collaboration between Billingee and Bates, the book underlines both the dynamism of Aboriginal art and culture in the Kimberley and Billingee’s regard for Bates.