Ancestral storys and personal history overlap in Sally Gabori’s art


The overwhelming majority of Mirdidinkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori’s paintings focused on Dibirdibi Country, the Country associated with the Rock Cod Ancestor, and of her husband.

In 2005 Gabori was introduced to painting, and her unique style, vision and story captured the imagination of the art world. Mixing wet paints on canvas to create tonal shifts, she evoked geological or ecological flux on Bentinck Island. As we continue the story of Sally’s world, find out why ancestral story and intimate personal history overlap in her art. If you haven’t seen the exhibition, it must close this weekend.

‘This is my husband’s country on Bentinck Island. Its real name is Kabararrji but I call it after his language name.’ Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori

At the end of the last ice age, sea levels rose dramatically. The former Lake Carpentaria joined the Arafura Sea to the west and the Torres Strait to the east. The land surrounding the Wellesley Ridge became inundated, cutting off Bentinck Island from the mainland and from its neighbouring islands. Kaiadilt history commemorates this climatic episode – which occurred some 6000 years ago – through the narrative of Dibirdibi who carved the South Wellesley Islands off from one another with his ventral fins. Dibirdibi’s creative and destructive journey ended at Bardathurr on Sweers Island where he was caught and eaten. His liver was discarded at the sea’s edge, transforming into a freshwater spring that provides a reliable water source to this day.

DELVE DEEPER: The life and art of Sally Gabori

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, Kaiadilt people, Australia c.1924–2015 / Dibirdibi Country 2011 / Synthetic polymer paint on linen / Winner 2012 Gold Award. Gift of the Moya Gold Trust through the Rockhampton Art Gallery Trust. / Collection: Rockhampton Art Gallery / © Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori/Copyright Agency

For Gabori, ancestral story and intimate personal history overlap: her husband Kabararrjingathi Bulthuku Pat Gabori was also called Dibirdibi as the inheritor of the story and associated places. Pat’s birthplace, his Country, is Kabararrji, which sits next to Gabori’s Country near the creek at Mirdidingki. In painting Dibirdibi Country Sally Gabori may be referring to Pat’s birth Country or to the places he is associated with through ownership of that narrative cycle.

The Dibirdibi paintings depict inland estuarine salt pans, ironstone ridges, mangrove swamps, rivers, reefs, rock-walled fish traps, a freshwater waterhole and hunting ground covered in waterlilies and brimming with turtles, grasslands where malji was collected to make grass baskets, and Bardathurr, where Dibirdibi came to rest.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution First Australians make to the art and culture of this country.

It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs on the QAGOMA Blog are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.