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Paddy Jaminji (c. 1912–1996)

by Kim Akerman

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Paddy Jaminji, Cyclone Tracy (1985)

Paddy Jaminji, Cyclone Tracy (1985)

National Gallery of Victoria

Narlngalwarrin ‘Paddy’ Jaminji/Jampijin (c. 1912–1996), artist, also known as Paddy Paddy Chumingee, was born around 1912 at Bedford Downs station, East Kimberley, Western Australia. His father was Julkurji, a parumanbin or melngarribiny (traditional healer) who received his powers directly from the Kaleruny/Kurlapal (rainbow serpent), and his mother was Ruby Julumanal. Both parents and son belonged to the Gija/Kija language group, whose territory lay between the Isdell River to the north, Halls Creek to the south, east past Purnululu (Bungle Bungles), and west into the area of the south-east sections of the Kimberley plateau. Paddy’s subsection or skin name was Jampin/Jampinji, an appellation that was often used as his surname, and his personal name was Narlngalwarrin. His totemic affiliations were with Kuntari/Jampinpuriny (Jenkins sooty grunter, Hephaestus jenkinsi) and Walimalal (flying fox, Pteropus).

Jaminji grew up in the vicinity of Bedford Downs and worked as a stockman for most of his life. In 1975, as the effects of the introduction of award wages were being felt in the pastoral industry and many Aboriginal pastoral workers who had worked for low pay were forced from stations to reserves, he left Bedford Downs, becoming one of the first group to take up residency at Turkey Creek (Warmun). Cyclone Tracy had devastated Darwin, Northern Territory, on Christmas Eve the previous year, and Jaminji and others viewed the event as a warning against the adoption of white man’s ways: ‘do not to lose the Law—do not to discard your identity’ (quoted in Akerman 2004, 4). Following the cyclone, Jaminji’s classificatory nephew, Rover Thomas, dreamt the ceremony later known as the Kurrirr-Kurrirr (Krill Krill/Kuril Kuril/Gurrir Gurrir/Goorirr Goorirr). Thomas’s classificatory mother, Yawayimya, had died in a car accident near Turkey Creek during the cyclone and the Kurrirr-Kurrirr related her spirit’s travels through the lands of the East and Central Kimberley. This epic journey, often in the company of other spirits of long-dead people, included and connected the sites and mythologies of several different language groups.

At Turkey Creek, Jaminji assisted Thomas in the evolution of the Kurrirr-Kurrirr and created much of the early artwork associated with it. Using discarded plywood, and working with ochres and natural resins, he painted the various spirits, mythological figures, and landscapes referred to in the songs. Dancers carried the plywood paintings on their shoulders representing the spirits encountered or places visited in the epic. Other dancers wore masks and represented spirits encountered by the spirit of the dead woman. Occasionally, and unusually, masked senior women participated in the dances. As the ceremony developed, it was performed at Turkey Creek and other nearby communities, and as far afield as the Victoria River District of the Northern Territory, the paintings wrapped in blankets and transported in the back of a truck. Such presentations could show the entire ceremony or be limited to a few songs and performances and their associated artworks.

Wider interest in Jaminji’s artworks was generated by Don McLeod, acting as an agent for the Perth-based art dealer Mary Macha, and Kim Akerman, who photographed Jaminji’s paintings in the late 1970s. Akerman initially saw the paintings at night in the context of the Kurrirr-Kurrirr when they were illuminated by strategically placed fires and an erratic generator; he was pleased to have his original feelings about their strength and beauty confirmed when viewing them in the daylight. Macha visited Turkey Creek in 1980 and was introduced to Jaminji, Thomas, and other members of the community. Jaminji showed Macha a suite of Kurrirr-Kurrirr painted boards but declined to sell them. Later, he agreed to part with the collection on the condition that Macha send fresh boards for him to paint. He painted regularly for Macha until increasing blindness caused by trachoma put a stop to his career in 1987.

As interest in Jaminji’s artwork—and demand for similar artworks—grew, other members of the community, such as Hector Jantalu, Jack Dolmu, who had contributed to some of the original Kurrirr-Kurrirr paintings attributed solely to Jaminji, and Rover Thomas, commenced painting their own artworks. While Thomas emerged as the leader of this new art movement, Jaminji was acknowledged as its founder. His work was included in major exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia (1987, 1989) and the National Gallery of Victoria (1993). He died in 1996. His role in founding the contemporary painting style of the East Kimberley, known as the Warmun School of Aboriginal Art, is acknowledged on his headstone: ‘nhayana wanarinyi nyi nyun nyun Nginini kipi ngarnam pirri mawantum’ (Him be the first one. Do it proper bush way).


Kim Akerman spent much of his life working with Aboriginal people of the Kimberley, including Paddy Jaminji. This interaction occurred during the development of Jaminji's career in the contemporary art world.

Select Bibliography

  • Akerman, Kim. ‘The Art of the Kurirr-Kurirr Ceremony.’ In Painting the Land Story, edited by Luke Taylor, 15–32. Canberra: National Museum of Australia, 1999
  • Akerman, Kim. ‘“I Bin Paint‘im First”: Paddy Jaminji—Trail-Blazing Artist of the Warmun School of Aboriginal Art.’ Catalogue essay. Perth: Holmes á Court Gallery, 2004
  • Christensen, Will. ‘Paddy Jaminji and the Gurirr Gurrir.’ In Images of Power: Aboriginal Art of the Kimberley, edited by Judith Ryan with Kim Akerman, 32–35. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1993
  • Mitchell, Selina. ‘Spirit Journey Leads to National Museum.’ Canberra Times, 10 July 1991, 3
  • Personal knowledge of IADB subject

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kim Akerman, 'Jaminji, Paddy (c. 1912–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Paddy Jaminji, Cyclone Tracy (1985)

Paddy Jaminji, Cyclone Tracy (1985)

National Gallery of Victoria

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Jampijin, Narlngalwarrin

c. 1912
Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia


1996 (aged ~ 84)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.