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Dick Roughsey, Various works

Dick Roughsey (Goobalathaldin) Various works

The Artist

According the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Dick Roughsey (Goobalathaldin) was borin in 1920 on Mornington Island, Queensland and was named Goobalathaldin. A member of the Lardil tribr, he was one of five brothers and grew up in an Aboriginal family clan, leading a tradional lifestyle. His mother Kuthakin was from the Lilumben or Eastern Lardil (Rock Cod people); his father Kiwarbija, meaning Rolling Sea' or Rough Sea', was also known as Kubulathaldin.  their country was on the south-east (Larumben) side of Mornington Island and included the smaller Langunganji (Sydney) Island.

Aged about 8, Goobalathaldin was taken into the children's domritory at the Mornington Island Presbtyerian Mission and given the name Dick. Upon learning the meaning of Kiwarbija, the missionary, Rev R.H. Wilson gave Dick's family the Anglicised surname of Roughsey. Educated at the mission school until he was thirteen or fourteen, Dick was sent to work as a stockman on southern Gulf of Caprentaria Cattle stations. He also went out bush, learning to hunt and fish in the traditional way. On the 20th September 1944 at the Presbyterian Church, Mornington Island, he married Elsie William.  They lived in a bark house in the mission village and Roughsey worked as a deckhand on board boats servicing Gulf settlements. Always popular with his kin, he took on the kathin-kathin role of public jester.. He made boomerangs and didgeridoos and painted barks for sale to tourists.

In the 1960s Roughsey and his elder brother Lindsay (Burrud) initiated a style of bark painting depicting Lardil sacred histories on cross -hatched and pointillists backgrounds.  It was gradually adopted by many local artists living at the Mornington mission  and became known as the Wellesley region art movement. Roughsey became friendly with an airline pilot, Percy Trezise, who encouraged him in his bark painting and provided him with commercial art materials that helped him adopt a finer technique. He developed a second style of Mornington Island art, depicting scenes of both mission and Lardil ways of life, for example, water-lily harvests and dugong feasts. His paintings, often signed Goobalathaldin, were exhibited at Cairns, Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

Trezise took Roughsey on expeditions to central Cape York, where they sought out and recorded rock art and excavated campsites in caves. Also interested in the Lardil people and their culture, Trezise arranged for a corroboree to be staged in a Cairns theatre in August 1964. Twenty Lardil dancers  and song-men performed and Roughsey described the audience response: the theatre was packed out for the whole week . How proud we Lardil men were... We were amazed to find the white people so interested in our culture.' From 1970 a professional touring group, the Mornington Island Dancers, travelled interstate every year, giving concerts.

Roughsey wrote about the changing cultural circumstances of his life in 'Moon and Rainbow' in 1971, the first autobiography of a tribal Aboriginal Australian. Elie Roughsey also wrote her story in 'An Aboriginal Mother Tells of the Old and the New (1984). Roughsey and Trezise used their knowledge of rock art on Cape York Peninsula, combined with their common interest  in interpreting the ancient regional Aboriginal culture, to write and illustrate some ten popular children's story books. The division of labour between Roughsey and Trezise in most of these books is unclear, but two of the earliest were attributed soley to Roughsey: The Giant Devil Dingo (1973) and the Rainbow Serpent (1974).  They contained some of his best figurative paintings, representing tribal lifestyles  in monsoonal savannah landscape juuxtaposed with powerful Dreamtime creatures. Roughsey cleverly fused certain southern Gulf cultural  elements (his own Lardil) into the Cape York regional cultural repertoires of artefacts, mythic creatures, indigenous names and other symbols. In 1976 and 1978 he won the Children's Book of the Year Awards.

Dick Roughsey Exploring Cave Shelters Dick Roughsey, Brolgas and Wildflowers

The Works of Art

The University of Canberra has three works of art by Goobalathaldin in its Art Collection.  The settings of all three works are very similar- a lightly wooded plain where in the first, we see indigenous girls picking wild-berries.The second depicts two men setting off on a trek, as the title suggests, looking for caves. This work perhaps is biographical depicting the artist and Percy Trezise doing the same thing- exploring for caves. The third is a wooded plain inhabited with brolgas, a grey crane-like bird that are common in Northern Queensland.

Marnbill by Burud

The Art Collection also has artworks by Burrud (Goobalathaldin's brother) and Percy Trezise. As a group, the works hold major significance by representing the Wellesley Group, its styles and influences. These works complement each other. Percy Trezise's Yagdabulla Sisters at Daybreak is a faithful depiction of the Northern Queensland landscape and one rich in cultural significance. Marnbill by Burrud depicts an Aboriginal warrior with club and spear setting off on a journey. The work is also dominated by a large gum tree with rock-cliffs in the background.

Percy Trezise, Yagdabulla Sisters at Dawn


Roughsey, Dick (Goobalathaldin) Australian Dictionary of Biography entry:

Alan and Susan McColluch, The Encyclopdedia of Australian Art, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1994.