Artist Billy Cooley
Title Wanampi
Year 2022

Burned etching on Itara

Dimensions 101 × 30 × 10 cm
Art Centre Maruku Arts →

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Billy Cooley

Billy Cooley was born on a cattle station and spent much of his life as a stockman. He and his Pitjantjatjara wife, Lulu have always worked closely together raising their six children and making spectacular carvings on their homeland near Amata. They have been long term directors of Maruku Arts, working closely with management for decades. In recent years the couple have participated in many exhibitions and carving demonstrations at Uluru as well as nationally and overseas. Billy and Lulu take great pride in passing on their skills not only to their children but grandchildren as well.

Artist statement

Contemporary carvings by Anangu are known as punu, hand carved and decorated with walka; patterns burnt into the wood with heated wire. The animals all have their associations with the Tjukurpa, the stories of the Creation Ancestors and the activities which shaped the land, the people and their Law. Many details of Tjukurpa are restricted to senior custodians and cannot be revealed.

Wanampi or Water Serpents, are powerful creatures that inhabit and guard over waterholes. Local custodians hold the stories of the ancestors’ activities at specific sites across the country and thus know where the Wanampi are located. These ancestors are always treated with special reverence and respect for their powers and waterholes are never approached lightly. Billy Cooley began carving when he was working as a stockman at Mulga Park Station where he also met his Pitjantjatjara wife and began living with her people.  Making kali or boomerangs from the desert mulga trees to start with, he remembers watching some of the older people crafting snakes from flat pieces of wood. With the idea of recreating something more of the drama of the liru, he began to look out for naturally occurring serpent forms in the roots and branches he came across in the landscape with a keen eye for interesting roots or peculiar twists of wood in which lie the sinuous coils of hidden movement. Wanting to make his work as lifelike as possible, he made careful study of the different scale patterns of desert serpents to replicate with his walka.  Although the works are inspired by the desert species he lives with, he explains it’s from his mother’s Country at Boorooloola that he is related to the Water Serpent Dreaming.