Yorna (Donny) Woolagoodja: 2021 Red Ochre Award for Lifetime Achievement

    27 May 2021

    Yorna (Donny) Woolagoodja is the patriarch of the Worrorra tribe. He is a spiritual leader and artist from the West Kimberley of Western Australia.

    Yorna is a quietly spoken, thoughtful and respectful man whose unconditional commitment to teach his young people shines in all that he does. He mentors and gently leads through his art and his culture.

    In 1997 Yorna and others in his community started painting. They wanted to follow their old people and to keep their Culture strong.

    Yorna was the first Chairperson of Mowanjum Artists Spirit of the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation incorporated in 1998. He was instrumental in establishing Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre which was completed in 2006. Yorna contributed to the design of the Centre. When viewed from the air, the centre depicts the facial features of a Wandjina. Under Yorna’s leadership, Mowanjum Artists Spirit of the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation started Mowanjum Festival in 1998.

    The Festival is one of Western Australia’s largest cultural celebrations of art and Junba, traditional song and dance performance, telling the stories of the Mowanjum tribes.

    Yorna became active in the pursuit of native title, and it was at Yaloon on 26 May 2011 at Dambimangari Native Title determination court hearing he received a copy of the determination document from Justice John Gilmore.

    Through his art and teachings Yorna is as equally committed to representing his Country, Culture and Wandjina to aalmara (non-Aboriginal people) both across Australia and internationally to deepen their understanding. He has worked with researchers, anthropologists, linguists, film-makers, mining companies, a plethora of government agencies, along with creating a tourism venture, Wandjina Tours. It is through this role Yorna would bring the Worrorra culture to a world-wide audience during the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, when he designed a large-scale Wandjina Namarali that rose spectacularly into the night sky. This was a moment of unbelievable emotion and pride for Yorna and Mowanjum. As appropriate, back home Yorna consulted with his Worrorra mob before permission could be granted. Everyone was excited for Namarali. They said it was about time he should show himself to the world.

    This Namarali is housed at the National Museum of Australia Canberra. 

    Yorna’s work is powerful and ongoing, especially in his mentorship.


    Learn more about the First Nations Ars Awards 2021 recipients . 

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