Born Bedford Downs, East Kimberley

Paddy Bedford, a man of Jawalyi skin, is known both by his nickname, Goowoomji, and by his Gija name, Nyunkuny. His English name was given by station manager Paddy Quilty, who, on hearing the newly born child cry at the birth tree, said, ‘Is it a boy or a girl? Well, name him Paddy after me’.

Paddy Bedford grew up on Bedford Downs where he learned to work as a cattleman for the usual rations and tobacco. His sister, Liddy, married Timmy Timms at Greenvale Station, just north of Bedford Downs, when they were very young. Bedford also worked with his brother-in-law on Greenvale and Bow River Stations, after Greenvale became part of Bow River, and spent time working on Texas Downs and Tableland Stations. Like all his contemporaries, Bedford combined stock work with development of knowledge of traditional law and ceremony. He was famous as a dancer and for his skill in dodging spears in a fight.

A couple of years before his birth, a group of Paddy’s Gija and Worla relations were murdered by strychnine poisoning in retaliation for the killing of one milking cow near Mount King, an emu dreaming place on Bedford Downs. After the murders, the people moved to the government station at Violet Valley; by the time of the artist’s birth, they had been persuaded to return to work at Bedford Downs.

In 2000, with Timmy Timms, Bedford revealed the existence of a Joonba, a song and dance cycle telling the story of the Bedford Downs killings, previously unknown to outsiders. The artist had been a singer and dancer in many performances of this Joonba as a young man. The song and dance cycle, with oral histories by both artists, formed the basis for the Neminuwarlin Performance Group’s production, Fire, fire burning bright. This performance premiered at the Perth International Arts Festival in February 2002 and was staged at Victoria’s State Theatre as part of the Melbourne Festival in October the same year. Paddy Bedford was a generous sponsor of both productions.

Paddy Bedford worked for a short time in Wyndham for the Main Roads Department, helping to build part of the Gibb River Road and the road to Moochalabra Dam. Following recovery from an injury sustained while shifting heavy rocks, he returned to Bedford Downs, moving permanently to Warmun (Turkey Creek) with his Gija wife, the late Topsy Bedford, and all remaining Gija workers, after a station manager killed all the camp dogs.

As a senior law man, Paddy Bedford has been involved in painting as part of ceremony all his life. He began painting on canvas for exhibition after Freddie Timms established the Jirrawun Aboriginal Art group at Rugun (Crocodile Hole) in 1997. Bedford’s paintings combine important family dreaming, such as emu, turkey and cockatoo, with roads, rivers, living areas for traditional and stock- camp life, stockyards and country visited while mustering.

Paddy Bedford was represented in Blood on the Spinifex at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne (2002–03). His work was central to True Stories, the Art Gallery of New South Wales exhibition of East Kimberley art (2003). From this exhibition, the gallery made a special purchase for its Yiribana Collection of the Jirrawun Suite of twenty-three gouaches, including fifteen works by Bedford. His painting, Emu Dreaming, 2003, owned by the National Gallery of Australia, was reproduced in ceramic-fired glass as a permanent installation on the ground floor of the Musée du Quai Branley, Paris, which opened in June 2006. A major retrospective exhibition of Paddy Bedford’s work will be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in 2006–07.

(Adapted from a text by Frances Kofod.)

2005 Paddy Bedford: Heart of blackness, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne
Black Note, Short Street Gallery, Broome
2004 Paddy Bedford: Rolling the swag, William Mora Galleries, Melbourne
2003 Paddy Bedford: Walking the line, GrantPirrie, Sydney
2002 Paddy Bedford: Significant paintings, GrantPirrie, Sydney
2001 Paddy Bedford, Raft Artspace, Darwin

2005 Beyond the Frontier , Sherman Galleries, Sydney
2004 2004, National Gallery of Victoria , Melbourne
Talking about abstraction, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney
Spirit and Vision, Sammlung Essl, Klosterneuburg, Austria
2003 Journey to now: John Kaldor art projects and collection, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide
True stories: Art of the East Kimberley, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Jirrawun jazz, Raft Artspace, Darwin

2004–06 Musée du Quai Branly, Paris