Boomalli Aboriginal Artists' Co-operative by Bronwyn Bancroft

Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).

Derived from the Bundjalung, Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri language groups, Boomalli means ‘to strike or make a mark’.

At the time Boomalli Aboriginal Artists’ Co-operative was established as a catalyst for change for Aboriginal artists living and working in cities, the following events in the year 1987 were occurring.

In Sydney, the Koori Art ‘84 exhibition had exposed a different perspective—works created by Aboriginal artists entrenched in the devastating effects of colonisation.

Bob Hawke was the Prime Minister, Joh Bjelke-Petersen was the Queensland Premier and in the Northern Territory elections, for the first time, voting became compulsory for Aboriginal people. Margaret Thatcher was re-elected as Prime Minister in the United Kingdom and the first mobile phone call occurred in Australia. This minimal capture of the times gives a perspective to the ongoing turbulence and change.

Boomalli was established by 10 artists and continues to exist 33 years later. Boomalli was founded by Euphemia Bostock (Bundjalung Nation), Fiona Foley (Badtjala, Fraser Island), Michael Riley (Wiradjuri, Kamilaroi Nation), Tracey Moffatt, Jeffrey Samuels (Ngemba), Brenda L Croft (Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra), Bronwyn Bancroft (Bundjalung), Avril Quaill (Quandamooka), Fern Martins (Ngarabul) and Arone Meeks (Kuku Midigi).

The group was comprised of seven women, Euphemia being the eldest at 50, and three men.

These 10 artists were striving for recognition for their diverse artistic practices and their stories. They challenged preconceptions around urban-based Aboriginal artists and created a unique space for themselves within the art world in Australia and internationally.

The Co‑operative’s continued existence has been an enabler for hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. The ripple effect of their artistic journeys has impregnated Australian art with new visions of old stories, political, familial and environmental, and issues around identity.

It is essential to acknowledge Gary Foley (Aboriginal Arts Board Director, Australia Council for the Arts 1983–86) and Uncle ‘Chicka’ Dixon (Chairperson, Aboriginal Arts Board) who, after meeting with Michael Riley, secured

rental for Boomalli’s first location at 18 Meagher Street, Chippendale in Sydney—the original birthplace of Boomalli, where John Newfong opened the first exhibition, Five Koori Artists by Riley, to an ecstatic reception in 1988.

The seven women artists who have all continued their artistic practice over three decades have been involved in the following areas of expertise—textile art, arts administration, ceramics, writing, academia, photography, filmmaking, book illustration, painting—and have exerted extraordinary influence in these fields.

In 1987 women across the world were striving for equality in patriarchal systems and the women artists at Boomalli led the way by delivering visual narratives that portrayed their lives, the lives of their family members, the politics of being Aboriginal, identity, political statements and the assertion of women’s rights for equality. The heightened awareness of these issues brought increased opportunities, which were embraced.

Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Bancroft, Bronwyn. "Boomalli Aboriginal Artists' Co-operative" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 50–51.

Boomalli Aboriginal Artists' Co-operative appears in

  • The Book

    With more than 150 artists profiled, the Know My Name book celebrates art by women from across Australia.