LONGKOONAN: Australia’s Oldest Practising Artist

Calla Lily ArtArleen Solomon Rotchin2 Comments

Loongknoon only took up painting in her 90’s, embracing it with such confidence, originality and dedication that her work has found its way into museums and private collections.

Born around 1910, she grew up on one of Western Australia’s enormous ranches on Mount Anderson and worked as a cattle and sheep musterer, riding horses and cooking for camps.

She has defied the statistics relating to Australia’s Aborigines who have, on an average, a markedly shorter life expectancy than their fellow citizens and are the country’s most disadvantaged people.

Diane Mossenson, whose gallery in Perth has shown her work says Loongknoon’s family attribute her good health in part to traditional remedies.  It’s all bush medicine.  The artist’s eyesight has always been brilliant.

Her paintings express the richness of a life lived almost entirely in her ancestral land and from the outset were marked by an urgency to record the sacred places, or booroo, of Nyikina country.

Throughout her long life, Loongknoon maintained her connection to her traditional culture and lifestyles, and today lives in a small community in Australia’s far northwestern Kimberly region.

As an elder on the Nyikina people, she is the custodian of much traditional language and lore and strives to impart her knowledge through her art.  Her life is written into her work….natural springs and other geographical features of the Australian outback, growing up along alongside the Fitzroy River and working on cattle stations. 

Diminutive but authoritative, Loongknoonan’s mesmerizing renderings of bush tucker, sacred places, bush medicines and tools of her ancestral land are comprised of shimmering overlaid light and dark dots and circles.

Bush Tucker is any food native to Australia.

For as long as 50,000 years, Aborigines have been eating bush tucker which is the hardy plant and animal foods of the Australian outback.

 Although about 80% of Australians are city dwellers, there is a growing appreciation for kangaroo, which is a tasty, fat-free meat, often smoked and emu a relative of the ostrich.  Emu meat is red, tender and richly flavoured.  High in protein is Goanna, a lizard that is very high in protein.

Her works have earned Loongknoonan glowing reviews, art prizes and high-level exposure in Australia’s Old Parliament House, galleries and universities.  Her canvases are now travelling internationally.

She says, ‘In my paintings I show all types of bush tucker that we lived off in the bush.  I paint Nyikina country the same way eagles see the country when they are high in the sky.’

The world’s oldest practising artist is now on display at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and will move to The University of Virginia’s Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection in Charlottesville.

The soft-spoken centenarian in comments interpreted from her indigenous Nyikina language by her niece Annie Milgin said, ‘I’m really, really happy.  And I’m really, really proud.’

‘I had a good life on the stations and 3 husbands.’

 She summed up her life in an artist’s statement. ‘ Today I am a single woman, and I like to travel about looking at Country and visiting Countrymen.  I still enjoy footwalking my country, showing the young people to chase barni (goannas) and catch fish.’

Loongknoonan never had any children.