Born: c. 1935
Location: Tjawa Tjawa (Point Moody)
Language: Kukatja, Ngarti
Bai Bai was born in the bush, probably in the mid 1930s, and is a Kukatja speaker. Her mother first saw white people when she was a little girl. Her family was camped near the Stansmore Range and saw three men on camels travelling north. Bai Bai recalls that they were friendly and gave her family tobacco. However, the next Europeans who came through were hunting Aboriginal people, especially women, and from that time the family were more cautious.
When Bai Bai’s family first saw cattle, they did not know what they were. They fed one to the dogs – and when the dogs did not die they realised the meat was safe for people to eat. Later, as a young girl, Bai Bai accompanied her family on two trips to the station near Gregory Salt Lake to take bullocks. On the second trip they were caught, chained to a tree and given poisoned food to eat. Some Aboriginal stockmen talked the station owners into releasing them.
Her family fled, and walked 200 kilometres to Nandalarra without stopping. After this they were very frightened of white people and avoided them until Balgo Mission was founded in 1948. Even then they approached carefully, camping at Emily Spring (Nyilli) for about a year before moving all the way in. Since then she has lived in the Balgo community and is a senior and respected Law Woman. She was married to artist Sunfly Tjampitjin (now deceased).
Her paintings reflect these responsibilities and her main painting themes are Tingari Dreamings. Her country is the Stansmore Ranges and around Yagga Yagga (an outlying community to Balgo). She began to paint in 1986 in Balgo, and since then has introduced younger members of her family to painting. She has been involved in several publications including “Yarrtji: Six women’s stories from the Great Sandy Desert”, 1997, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.
Bai Bai is a long serving member of the Kimberley Land Council and a strong practitioner of women’s law and culture in Balgo. She is a well-respected artist and her work is held in major collections such as the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of Western Australia.