Rover Thomas / Kukatja/Wangkajunga people / Australia 1926–98 / Blue tongue lizard 1984 / Natural pigments and synthetic polymer paint on board / 138.5 x 91.5cm (irreg.) / Purchased 1997. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Rover Goolama Thomas/Licensed by Copyright Agency

Rover Thomas
Blue tongue lizard 1984

Not Currently on Display

Rover Thomas’s painting represents the stark and rocky topography of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The work is an expression of the artist’s deep relationship with the land of the Kimberley and the Northern Territory.

Following the death of an aunty in 1974 during Cyclone Tracy, Thomas experienced a sequence of dreams showing the journeys taken by her spirit across Darwin, the Kimberley and Broome. As a result of the profound knowledge of country he gained through these dreams, Thomas began to develop the Gurirr Gurirr ceremonial dance cycle, an example of the living dynamic dimension of culture.

Blue tongue lizard 1984 belongs to a remarkable group of paintings that record the journey of Cyclone Tracy from an aerial viewpoint, often with uncanny geographical accuracy. Thomas’s paintings are — all at the same time — maps, stories and symbols of spirituality/mythology.

Rover Thomas was born around 1926 at a waterhole called Yalta, located on the 1800-kilometre long Canning Stock Route, a passage between the cattle stations of the Kimberley and the goldfields of Kalgoorlie. He grew up along the middle stretch of the route and later lived in Balgo and Warmun.

Thomas began his working life as a fencing contractor in the Kimberley and the Northern Territory before working as a stockman. The work enabled him to stay connected to the land though western practices had disrupted traditional life in the Kimberley for generations. His stock-droving career ended in 1968 after industrial legislation for equal pay led to the dismissal of many Aboriginal workers.

In 1982, Thomas began painting ceremonial boards depicting the path of Cyclone Tracy across the north-west of Australia. His minimalist style and captivating use of ochre is highly regarded by artists worldwide. He played a significant role in the creation of the East Kimberley school of painting.

Discussion Questions

1. Have a look at our map which shows the major regions of Indigenous Australia. Can you find where the Kimberley is?

2. What does this painting tell you about the environment in which the artist worked?

3. Examine the composition of Blue tongue lizard — its geometric and organic shapes and the limited colour palette. How do these elements successfully represent both country and story?


1. Using chalk pastels on a sheet of A3 cartridge paper, use as few lines as possible to represent your town or suburb. Fill the sheet with different shapes, then add one or two concentric circles to represent places of importance to you.

2. Choose a particularly Australian habitat as the subject matter for an artwork. Consider the colours and the textures involved and compose a symbolic image that could be read in terms of either location or narrative.