The artworks of renowned Indigenous artist Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey (1920-1985) will be exhibited at the Queensland Art Gallery to recognise the elder’s contributions to the Indigenous community.

‘Stories of this Land’ opens March 30th and will display some of Roughsey’s well-known landscape paintings which tell stories about Indigenous ancestors and life before and after European contact.

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) Director Chris Saines said Roughsey is likely best known for his illustrated children’s books, particularly The Rainbow Serpent, which is still in print today.

“Roughsey truly understood the power of storytelling. For thousands of children The Rainbow Serpent remains an important first encounter with Indigenous Australian culture and an introduction to some of the key Indigenous narratives of this land,” Mr Saines said.

The exhibition is expected to be a celebration of Roughsey’s life and his social contributions as a revered and legendary Lardil elder.

It will feature over 70 artworks, including some of Roughsey’s early bark paintings, original picture book illustrations, as well as historical and ceremonial objects.

A collaboration between QAGOMA and Cairns Art Gallery, ‘Stories of this Land’ has been co-curated by QAGOMA curator Bruce Johnson McLean and Cairns Art Gallery assistant curator Teho Ropeyarn.

Roughsey, Dick Goobalathaldin, Tresize, Percy. The next resting place was at Fairview where he decided to make another lily lagoon called Minalinka. Non-collection, synthetic polymer paint on paper, 25.4 x 48cm.

McLean said Roughsey was born at the remote site of Karrakarra on the Mornington Island coast and was removed from his family as a young boy.

“[He was] taken to the newly established Presbyterian Mission dormitory on Mornington Island. Growing up he worked on cattle stations, as a deckhand and then as a yardman on the coast of the south-eastern Gulf,” Mr McLean said.

“It was here that a chance meeting with the pilot and artist Percy Trezise would develop into a lifelong friendship, with Trezise encouraging him to further explore art-making practices.”

Roughsey’s career gave him the privilege of undertaking many journeys from Cape York and Far North Queensland, to Australia’s major cities, to around the world.

He was one of the first Aboriginal people to publish an autobiography in 1971 and in 1974 and was appointed first chairperson of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council.

‘Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey: Stories of this Land’ runs from March 30th until August 18th at QAGOMA.

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By Hannah Cross