Harold Joseph Thomas (Bundoo) was born in 1947 in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. His mother was a Luritja woman and his father a Wombai man. 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.
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.
In 1970 he started working as a survey artist at the South Australian Museum. He took advantage of the rich cultural collection, immersing himself in art and artifacts. “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 piece, every design. I felt there was something powerful and strong that was being expressed.”
While studying he got involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1971 Harold created a bold graphic artwork that was immediately adopted for the Australian Aboriginal flag, first flown in Victoria Square, Adelaide, at the NADOC march. 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.”
Classically trained, Harold is strongly influenced by painters such as Caravaggio, Gericault, Delacroix and Goya. In 2016 Harold started painting historical subjects he had wanted to engage in since art school days. Emotionally charged paintings of Aboriginal people being controlled by European law. Paintings post contact with European colonisation of Australia. Paintings of Frontier Wars, a subject Australian artists have carefully sidestepped. Harold says “Just like the heroic war paintings of European history, the truth must be shown.”
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 historically recorded event of an Aboriginal group being attacked and killed by white drovers and station hands, was selected for the 2017 NATSIAA. ‘The Poison Chalice’ is a cynical look at the relationship between Aboriginal culture, the church, law and politics. “As a figurative artist, the human form and emotion is without question the greatest challenge for me to capture,” Harold says.
Harold Came to live permanently in the Top End of Australia in 1972. From that time until recently, his work was a celebration of the landscape and wildlife. He is best known for his luminous watercolours, which sadly he has not continued since 2016.
Fiftieth anniversary of the Aboriginal Flag. Flown for the first time in a Land Rights march, Adelaide, July 9th 1971
Selected for NATSIAA, painting ‘Myal Creek Massacre’
Painting ‘Tribal Abduction’ hung in library foyer Charles Darwin University
Outright winner, Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Art Award (NATSIAA) Darwin. Stopped painting figurative watercolours
Exhibition “Irreverence to Colour” Territory Colours, Darwin
Exhibition “Painter of Light” Territory Colours Darwin
Finalist David Unaipon Literary Award, Qld University Press
Exhibition Raintree Gallery, Darwin
Aboriginal Flag proclaimed an official flag under the Commonwealth Flag Act.
Chairperson, NT Stolen Generation Committee
Completed Honours degree in Social Anthropology, Adelaide University
The Tenth National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT. Painting “Bungalo Boy” purchased by the museum
Print display at Tandanya S.A.
Print display at Sydney Opera House
Print exhibition at Darwin Entertainment Centre Gallery
Painted watercolours for a set of limited prints to commemorate 20 years of the Aboriginal Flag
Group Exhibition “Balance 1990: Views, Visions, Influences”, QAG, Brisbane.
Exhibition “Beauty of the North” Kimberley Kreations, Broome
Exhibition “Masterworks”, Raintree Gallery at the Darwin Sheraton
Exhibition “Top End Landscapes”, Framed Gallery, Darwin
Exhibition “Living North” Esplanade Gallery, Darwin
Official portrait artist for Northern Territory Government. Painted most Administrators and Chief Ministers for display at Parliament House, Darwin.
Exhibition “Northern Light” Birukmarri Gallery, Fremantle
Commission for large panorama at Travelodge Darwin reception.
Exhibition “New Works”, Framed Gallery, Darwin
Selected to hang in the second National Aboriginal Art Award Exhibition, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT, Darwin
Watercolours exhibition, Esplanade Gallery, Darwin
Painting selected to hang in the inaugural National Aboriginal Art Award, Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences, Darwin
Honours degree in Social Anthropology, Adelaide University
Produced and Directed mythological play, “Pelicans Dream.”
Illustrated Daisy Bates (Karbali)”Aboriginal Mythology Collection.
Held first “Protest” Exhibition of Traditional Art.
Honorary degree in Social Anthropology from Adelaide University.
Designed the Aboriginal Flag
First Aboriginal employed in a state museum, South Australian Museum
First Aboriginal to graduate from the South Australian School of Art
First exhibition of watercolours, Adelaide, opened by Don Dunstan
Won a Scholarship to study art at the South Australian School of Art
Born in Alice Springs, Northern Territory