Why is an outstation on Bentinck Island important to Sally Gabori?


We continue our series on Sally Gabori’s paintings, here we introduce you to Nyinyilki, an outstation on Bentinck Island, off the coast of North Queensland.

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, Kaiadilt people, Australia c.1924–2015 / Ninjilki 2008 / Synthetic polymer paint on canvas / Purchased with funds donated by Colin Golvan, 2008 / Collection: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne / © Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori. Licensed by Viscopy

‘Nyinyilki or main base is where we built the outstation when we got our land back. That is why we call it main base as well’ Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori

Nyinyilki sits on the south-eastern coast of Bentinck Island and is home to a large permanent freshwater lagoon. Following the Kaiadilt Land Rights battles, an outstation was established there and is often referred to as ‘Main Base’ or ‘Main Camp’. Sally and the group of senior women whom she lived and worked with would return to Nyinyilki whenever possible during the dry season and to Mornington Island during the wet season due to a lack of infrastructure and resources. Many Kaiadilt know the settlement by the colloquial name ‘the old ladies’ camp’.

A large shallow bay joins this stretch of coast to Barthayi (Fowler Island) in the south, and to the east a long rocky spit creates safe water where dugongs proliferate. The beach extends west to Mirdidingki, Sally’s birthplace, and Kabararrji, where her husband Kabararrjingathi Bulthuku Pat Gabori was born.

READ OUR SERIES on Sally Gabori

Sally’s paintings of Nyinyilki are energised with memories of people and places from this area and have personal, familial, cultural and political importance. They often reference the rectangular freshwater lagoon fringed by jungle; the semi-circular rock-walled fish trap near the settlement; the cliffs to the west; sandbars that enable travel between Bentinck Island and Barthayi at low tide; and trails and tracks left by dugongs when feeding in the bay.

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, Kaiadilt people, Australia c.1924–2015 / Nyinyilki 2010 / Synthetic polymer paint on linen / Collection: Beverly and Anthony Knight OAM / © Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori. Licensed by Viscopy

Like so many great artists, why did Sally Gabori excel at painting the world she knew?