Hughie Ah Won bio

d.o.b: 1965

Birthsite:                              Barkley Tablelands, NT

Language/Tribal Group:         Wunambul / Djubidja 

“My name is Hughie Ah Won, I am a Wunambul man, my skin is Djubidja. I paint the Wandjina and stories that were told to me from my elders of the Wunambul tribal. I paint these stories hoping to pass them onto the younger generation of the Kimberley region”.



Hughie Ah Won was born on Creswell Downs Station, Barkley Tablelands, NT in 1965.  His father was working as a stockman on the station at the time.  Hughie’s father, Edward Ahwon was from Spring Creek Station, WA and his mother, Gracie Ned was from Borroloola in the Northern Territory.

Hughie, his brother Robert and sisters Susan, Marjorie and Audrey grew up and went to school in Wyndham.  After Hughie finished school he worked as both a stockman and a house painter for several years before commencing work in government departments such as Aboriginal Legal Services and Children’s Services.  

Incredibly, given the depth of his talent, Hughie only started painting seriously in 2007. His inspiration to paint came from the old boab carvers in Wyndham. They hadn’t had the eduction that Hughie had, but they had life experience and incredible talent. His mentor was Octa Carroll (father of senior ochre artist Tommy Carroll) and then Alan Carroll and Leslie Evans.

Hughie realised that people in Wyndham were interested in his artworks and started selling locally and in Kununurra for Waringarri Arts in 2008.   In 2009 Hughie and his family moved to Adelaide temporarily where he entered an art competition for the creation of a calendar and his work was chosen to be represented for the month of April.

In early 2010, keen to learn more of the technical aspects of painting, Hughie moved to Cairns where there is a huge art culture.  Recognising his immense talent, a local gallery started working directly with Hughie.  As well as painting his incredible artworks, Hughie also produced stunning etchings and lino cuts.

Hughie now resides in Kununurra, East Kimberley with his family.  Inspired by his country, he continues to create his amazing works.

The Art of Hughie Ah Won

Urban Wandjina - the Unique Art of Hughie Ah Won


Hughie Ah Won has had a colourful life.  


He comes from the beautiful hot red land of The Kimberley in far north Western Australia, and has travelled vast tracts of the country, towns and cities of Australia. He has always taken the stories and Spirits of his culture with him to these urban places - the Wandjina have shared his journey. 


Hughie has returned to his homeland of The Kimberley and now paints his stories and the Dreamtime Spirits to pass on to the younger generation of his people.   His works exude colour - both aesthetically and spiritually in the way he represents how the stories and Spirits are woven into the country and into the cities.  The Wandjina are at home in the quiet of the Kimberley, however, whilst enjoying the curiosities of the city, they are eager to share with the urban culture stories of their existence and traditions and also reminders to “pull over” and “learn to be still”.  Hughie Ah Won presents these stories and reminders by way of his exhibition “URBAN WANDJINA”.


The 3 little paintings hanging in the gallery have a deep significance, two are titled Water Dreaming and the third is aFire Dreaming  painting by sisters, Sarrita and Tarisse King and their father, the late, great, Bill King Jangala.  The works, although very contemprary to look at,  have a deep significance and an even deeper impact on the lives of the desert dwellers for thousands of years.  They represent the two most vital elements we have, fire and water, both needed to sustain a healthy environment and life.  

Desert artists sadly missed

If anyone wanted proof of the tribal differences that still define Aboriginal Australia then the individual painting styles that four recently dead women artists made their own ought to be sufficient. 

Story by Jeremy Eccles

Sadly, in the last few months, we've lost Angelina George from Ngukurr on the Roper River, Sally Gabori from Bentinck and Mornington Islands, Munmarria Daisy Andrews from Fitzroy Crossing via the Great Sandy Desert and Myra Cook from the Ngaanyatjarra Central Desert lands.

In a sense, Angelina and Daisy both painted the places where desert met mountain ranges, and both reflected the murderous expansion of those pastoral 'pioneers' who all-too-often killed the people whose land tenure system they couldn't comprehend but whose lands they coveted - but how differently they saw them as a result of both geography and centuries of acculturisation. 

For Daisy Andrews, her 'Kaningarras' and 'Lumpu Lumpus' were blood-red with unhappy memories of lands lost, relatives shot, sacred water-holes defiled and songlines disrupted. Yet she used synthetic polymer paint on paper to create deceptively appealing landscapes - so successfully that the West Australian Opera commissioned a 12 metre backdrop for their production of 'Alcina' in 1996. I wonder if Perth opera audiences recognised their complicity in Daisy's pain? "I knew that country in my mind from my brother Boxer. That country is empty now. It made me cry. I tell you I was just upset".

Meanwhile, Angelina George had a mix and match childhood involving traditional ceremony in the mountains south of the Roper River and Christianity in town, school and chapel (where her father was the first Indigenous pastor), and she worked assiduously for a decade to find a way to capture the importance of the land to her. Sidney Nolan's outback paintings have been associated with the result in her 'Ruined Cities', which she shows as something between a real world swirling in constant motion, and abstraction. Romantic (with a capital R) has also been used by a critic who felt the touch of Casper David Friedrich. Yet Angelina's emphasis actually was: "I have special memories from my travels ... I can paint my memories and imagination ... not exactly what it looks like. You know. Traditional way and law. My imagined country never stops in my memory."

Such a powerful force, memory - especially when these elders had at least first-hand reports of the days before the white man came and spoilt everything.

In Sally Gabori's case, the missionaries did their best to negate her Kaiadilt memories of life on the strands of Bentinck Island - cut off from both black and white intrusion for centuries - by forcibly transferring them all to Mornington Island when drought, a cyclone and tribal fighting combined to threaten their existence. These untamed people were thus opened up to Christianity - and Gabori's husband Pat lost 2 of his 4 wives. But..."Such was the trauma of this forced shift that for several years no child was born and survived, rupturing forever the chain by which one sibling transmits language to the next". Dr Nicholas Evans of Melbourne University has written about vanishing languages internationally, inspired by his Kaiadilt studies. But in human terms, this trauma meant that Sally Gabori could never pass her tribal lore on to the offspring of her own 11 children through song or conversation. Painting was the only way. 

And she dedicated the last 9 of her 90 years to playing catch-up with canvas, delighting the market with her unpredictable blocks of "sizzling scarlets, piercing yellows (and) opulent blues" which somehow reflected essential facets of her island home. Actually, I suspect Gabori's black and white paintings will best stand the test of time. 

Did Myra Yurtiwa Cook down in the Gibson Desert have such a tough time? She seems to have moved in and out of Country freely with her family, bringing her children up in Blackstone and Warnan. The pioneering Warburton Art Project gave her the first opportunity to paint in the classic way of desert dotting. But after that, reality caught up with her as her life was tossed and turned between opposing forces in the Aboriginal art business. The purists at Desart in the Noughties sought to restrict artists to working only in community art centres; some artists wanted to make their own choices. And the 'notorious' John Ioannou was standing there to assist them. For a time, he actually ran a community art centre at Irrunytju - at the behest of its artists.

We shall miss all of these women elders, as will their families. But their art will live on to educate them and delight us.


Paddy Fordham

Famous for his Mimi Spirit paintings, Paddy Fordham celebrates and tells his Dreamtime stories thru the adventures of the Mimi Spirit as they dance across the canvas with their hunting spears and sacred totems.  On display in the foyer of the Hilton at South Wharf, these unique paintings are all for sale, 10% discount if you are a guest at the Hilton.

Paddy was born in Arhnem Land 1930 and passed away 2006. He was taught to paint by his father, but in his early years was a stockman and strong supporter of equal rights for Aboriginal people.  He painted on rock and bark, but in later years preferred to work on canvas.  His artworks are a reminder of the rich cultural heritage of his land.

How are paintings painted?

Many of the artworks that have been painted in the desert are done on the ground with the artist looking down on the work.  When the work is hung on the wall it can be hung from a landscape or portrait aspect.  

Most of the indigenous artists know their country that well that they are able to paint the rockholes, meeting places and sacred sites without any further maps or instructions.  As part of their initiation, as young people, they would travel through the desert with senior lawmen and women who would teach them about their country.

The paintings that we see hanging in many of the galleries depict maps and scenes from those areas.

Indigenous Tracking Skills

Indigenous Australian children learn't how to track thru their elders teaching about the tracks that the animals make in the sand.  When the young children first learnt how to walk they also learnt about their own footprints and the footprints their mothers made when walking thru the bush and sand,  from there they would go onto more complex tracking skills such animal and reptile tracks and how to judge if the tracks were fresh or old.  Symbols drawn in the sand showing these animals tracks are now painted on canvas.  Many paintings reflect the lessons learnt from very young children, although a lot of the information is still sacred and secret is only available to those initiated.

Could Australia’s floral emblem hold answers for a hungry world?

Aboriginal people have been eating wattleseed for generations.  There are many paintings that tell us about gathering and storing wattleseed, now with scientific proof that wattleseed holds many health benefits, the work being done in Africa shows it might hold a lot more answers to feeding and nourishing the hungry.

... While there are a few species of acacia that are native to Africa, the trees are slow growing and their seeds are spiny and toxic with high levels of cyanide. In the Australian species of acacia, the cyanide levels are low and other toxins can be removed through a simple roasting process ...

Could Australia's floral emblem hold answers for a hungry world?

Image: Children in Niger holding foods made with acacia such as fura (soup), pancakes and acacia seeds in cous cous with onions and other vegetables. (Mariana Chokaa/World Vision)

As food security becomes an increasing challenge into the future, experts believe indigenous foods may hold the key to feeding hungry nations. Australia's acacias, commonly known as wattles, are leading the charge. Cathy Pryor reports.

Australian wattle trees, or acacias, were first introduced to Africa more than three decades ago in a bid to increase soil nutrients and stave off erosion. Over the years they stood tall, thriving in a common climate. What was less known was the seeds they bore could also be an important food source for a hungry continent.
In the midst of the famine that gripped parts of the continent in the 1980s, the irony could not have been more bitter. It took a forestry worker visiting from Australia to ask a simple question: did the villagers know that the seeds on these trees had been eaten by indigenous Australians for millennia?

King Sisters Pop Art

The exhibition of paintings by Sarrita and Tarisse King opened last night.  There were a lot of new works and new styles by these amazing artists who are forever evolving with thought provoking paintings that, not only have a huge depth of knowledge about the country, but also relate really well to viewers who stand in awe of some of the huge canvases.   

Pommery Champagne commissioned Sarrita to paint a special series of works.  These paintings featured on a new art label on their latest champagne bottles.  Both the paintings and the bottles are on display in the foyer at the Hilton Hotel.  More works on level 4 in the gallery.


Earth Cycles

The paintings by SarritaandTarisse King can tell us a lot about the country that the two sisters grew up in.  Their father, the late Bill King Jangala, taught his daughters about the countryside, the philosophies and about their ancestors.

The elements also played an important role in the education of the two sisters, Fire and Water feature heavily in works by both of the sisters.

Fire was the element that connected Tarisse to her ancestors and in turn her ancestors to the earth.  The heat of the fire can be felt in her artworks and it is this feeling of warmth that her father said would be the same sensation her ancestors had experienced thousands of years ago.

Water with it's life giving properties connects her to her father.  Tarisse captures the movement and shimmer of the water as seen from above through her varied tonal use of blues and whites.

Sarrita King paints the Earth Cycles, her father passed these down to her, teaching her about the connection between all people and the world around them.

Water with its different geographical formations inspired Sarrita to seek and mimic the movement of this life-giving element.  Listening to her father explain the dire importance of water to the Aboriginal people and culture, Sarrita feel that this element also connects her to her father.


 View artworks by Tarisse King

View artworks by Sarrita King