Every year the Australia Council for the Arts recognises and celebrates the outstanding work and achievements of First Nations artists. The bulk of the 2021 First Nations Arts Awards have acknowledged the work of Indigenous creatives working with language, music and song. But Yorna (Donny) Woolagoodja, a renowned artist from the Western Kimberly region of Western Australia, was honoured with a prestigious Red Ochre Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Yorna (Donny) Woolagoodja is a spiritual leader, artist and patriarch of the Worrorra tribe.
Woolagoodja and others in his community started painting in 1997. He was the first chairperson of Mowanjum Artists Spirit of the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation, which was incorporated in 1998. Under his leadership, the corporation started the Mowanjum Festival in 1998. And it went on to become Western Australia’s largest cultural celebration of art and Junba, traditional song and dance performance; telling the stories of the Mowanjum tribes.
Woolagoodja was also instrumental in establishing the Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre and he contributed to its design. Completed in 2006, when viewed from the air the centre resembles the facial features of a Wandjina.
The artist has been active in pursuing native title, and he is also known to be committed to representing his Country, culture and Wandjina to aalmara (non-Aboriginal people) both across Australia and internationally.
To this end he has worked with researchers, anthropologists, linguists, film-makers, mining companies, and numerous government agencies. And Woolagoodja introduced millions of people around the world to Worrorra culture through his contribution to the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
Yorta Yorta Dja Dja Wurrung woman Dr Lou Bennett AM also received a Red Ochre award for her contribution as a composer, singer and researcher of First Nations languages.
The Dreaming Award for a young emerging artist went to rapper and Gumbaynggirr man Tasman Keith. And musician and songwriter Kutcha Edwards received the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Fellowship.
“These awards are an important opportunity for all Australians to recognise the extraordinary First Nations arts and culture that shapes our national identity and enriches our nation’s unique cultural agenda,” said Executive Director Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Franchesca Cubillo at the ceremony. “The awards are also an opportunity for all Australians to recognise the importance of First Nations peoples’ self-determination, cultural authority and leadership.”