Harold Thomas (Bundoo)

Harold Joseph Thomas was born in 1947 in Alice Springs. His mother was a Luritja woman and his father a Wombai man. A watercolourist and oil painter, Harold has a deep love for the country, its people, wildlife, and history. He presents it in his unique and timeless way, “I like to capture the mood of the subject before me,” Harold says. “It could be the ruffling feathers of a group of gouldian finches or the massive thunderheads building up over the Arnhem Land Escarpment.”

Classically trained, Harold describes his style as a continuum of the Australian Impressionist School of the late 19th century.  “I’m a figurative modernist,” he says. “I know I have kept faithful to the ideals of representational art from my training. This is evident in my impressions of the Northern Territory with vibrant hues and fresh, luminous application of paint.”

Of his early Alice Springs years, Harold recalls many afternoons drawing and painting on scraps of butchers paper. A member of the stolen generation he was taken from his family at the age of seven and sent to South Australia’s St Frances House, an Anglican institution for Aboriginal boys. When he was eleven he was fostered by an Anglican priest and his family, who lived in Willunga, south of Adelaide, South Australia.

He was the only Aboriginal boy at the local school but had plenty of friends and was made captain of the football team. He was fast, savvy with play and give decisive leadership to the team.

Harold started out on the long journey as an artist after winning a scholarship to the South Australian School of Art at the age of seventeen. He went on to become the first Aboriginal to graduate from an Australian art school. Later, he also received an honorary degree in social anthropology from Adelaide University. While studying he got involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1970 he married his wife Shirley and started working as a survey artist at the South Australian Museum. He took advantage of the rich culture, immersing himself in the collection. “I was with the largest collection of Aboriginal artifacts in the world and I had virtually free access to it all,” he says. “I gleaned over every artifact, every design. I felt there was something powerful and strong that needed to be expressed.”

At this time Harold designed the Aboriginal flag, which to this day remains a strong and unifying symbol for Aboriginal rights and justice. “In my university days there was a question of identity amongst Aboriginal people,” Harold says. “People stood up during marches for civil rights to express their Aboriginal identity. The flag stood for all of that. The colours reflect an awakening of their emerging political consciousness.”

In 2016 Harold started painting historical subjects he had wanted to bring out since art school days. Emotionally charged paintings of Aboriginal people being controlled by European law. Sometimes historical facts that were outside of the law but happened anyway. Paintings post contact with European colonisation of Australia. The painting ‘Tribal Abduction’ showing a baby being forcible removed from its mother was selected and won NATSIAA in 2016. The next painting ‘Myal Creek Massacre’ showing an Aboriginal group being attacked and killed by white drovers and station hands has been selected for the 2017 NATSIAA. 


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2017
Selected for NATSIAA, painting ‘Myal Creek Massacre’
2016
Outright winner, Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Art Award (NATSIAA) Darwin.
2013
Exhibition “Irreverence to Colour” Territory Colours, Darwin
2005
Exhibition “Painter of Light” Territory Colours Darwin
2004
Finalist David Unaipon Literary Award, Qld University Press
2002
Exhibition Raintree Gallery, Darwin
1995
Aboriginal Flag proclaimed an official flag under the Commonwealth Flag Act.
1995
Chairperson, NT Stolen Generation Committee
1994
Completed Honours degree in Social Anthropology, Adelaide University
1993
The Tenth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum
and Art Gallery of the NT. Painting “Bungalo Boy“ purchased by the museum
1991
Print display at Tandanya S.A.
1991
Print display at Sydney Opera House
1991
Print exhibition at Darwin Entertainment Centre Gallery
1991
Painted watercolours for a set of limited prints to commemorate 20 years of the Aboriginal Flag
1990
Group Exhibition “Balance 1990: Views, Visions, Influences”, QAG, Brisbane.
1990
Exhibition “Beauty of the North” Kimberley Kreations, Broome
1989
Exhibition “Masterworks”, Raintree Gallery at the Darwin Sheraton
1988
Exhibition “Top End Landscapes”, Framed Gallery, Darwin

1988
Exhibition “Living North” Esplanade Gallery, Darwin
1987
Official portrait artist for Northern Territory Government. Painted most Administrators and Chief Ministers for display at Parliament House, Darwin.
1987
Exhibition “Northern Light” Birukmarri Gallery, Fremantle
1986
Commission for large panorama at Travelodge Darwin reception.
1986
Exhibition “New Works”, Framed Gallery, Darwin
1985
Selected to hang in the second National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Darwin
1985
Watercolours exhibition, Esplanade Gallery, Darwin
1984
Painting selected to hang in the inaugural National Aboriginal Art Award, Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences, Darwin
1975
Honours degree in Social Anthropology, Adelaide University
1973/74
Produced and Directed mythological play, “Pelicans Dream.”
1973
Illustrated Daisy Bates (Karbali)“Aboriginal Mythology Collection.
1972
Held first “Protest” Exhibition of Traditional Art.
1971
Honorary degree in Social Anthropology from Adelaide University.
1970
Designed the Aboriginal Flag
1970
First Aboriginal employed in a state museum, South Australian Museum
1969
First Aboriginal to graduate from the South Australian School of Art
1968
First exhibition of watercolours, Adelaide, opened by Don Dunstan
1966
Won a Scholarship to study art at the South Australian School of Art
1947
Born in Alice Springs, Northern Territory