The Artist

Harold Joseph Thomas 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, 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.

2023 Sydney Opera House Exhibition

2023 Honorary Doctor of Arts

2022 Australian Government purchased Aboriginal Flag design copyright

2021 Fiftieth anniversary of the Aboriginal Flag. Flown for the first time in a Land Rights march, Adelaide,
July Friday the 9th 1971

2017 Selected for NATSIAA, painting ‘Myal Creek Massacre’ Painting ‘Tribal Abduction’ hung in library
foyer Charles Darwin University

2016 Outright winner, Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Art Award (NATSIAA)
Darwin. Stopped painting figurative watercolours

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

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 & Fremantle

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 BA Honours Level 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 Designed the Aboriginal Flag

1970 First Aboriginal employed in a state museum, South Australian Museum

1969 First Aboriginal Art graduate in Australian from SA 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