In Memory of Warthardangathi Bijarrba Ethel Thomas

Ethel Thomas was a much loved member of MI Art Centre, and her passing in March at aged 75 has left a large hole within the tight knit group of artists.

Ethel was born at Oak Tree Point on Bentinck Island. “I was only very small when the missionaries came and took us to Mornington Island. I was asleep when it happened and when I woke up we were on Mornington Island. I missed my parents when we were in the dormitory and we would often run away to be with them. When I was older I worked in the hospital and the mission house. Not long after that I went to Karumba on the mainland and worked on a cattle station. I moved around a few stations and on one, Esmerelda, I met my husband George Thomas. When my husband got sick and passed away I returned to Mornington in time for our people starting an outstation on Bentinck Island at Main Base or Ninjilki.”

Ethel was always very grateful to Aunty Sally Gabori. “Aunty Sally Gabori showed me her paintings when she first visited Bentinck again after being away for such a long time. She gave me one because I am her favourite. Now I am doing the same paintings with my sisters and aunties.”

Mum Ethel was a wife, mother, grandmother and artist. She was passionate about family, Country and culture and these were the things that influenced her art, and her conversations around these things. She always acknowledged her Aunty Sally who introduced her and her sisters to art, and she went on to develop her own unique style. When she went out on exhibition trips she would return home with stories to share and have everyone laughing. She was also eager to learn new skills and once was involved with a fashion workshop where she created a dress for CIAF and wore make up and went around saying, ‘I look alright aye’, all the while batting her eyelids. We’ll miss her presence and input into our conversations around art works in the studio. On Country, where she always wanted to be, gave her the opportunity, with the youth, to share her love and knowledge of Country. We’ll always remember her for her love of vibrant colours, family and her beloved homeland Rukuthi Bentinck Island.

Bereline Loogatha MIArt Gallery Manager

Main image credit: Ethel Thomas with her painted coral works. Image MI Art

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