• Hope Vale Art Centre

Artist Q&A: Gertie Deeral

Gertrude Deeral is an important leader and elder from the Dingaal clan and is a traditional owner of the country around Lizard Island.

Gertie began painting at the age of 73, and belongs to the Gamba Gamba group (senior women) at the art centre. Artworks by the Gamba draw on traditional Guugu Yimmithirr Warra culture and contemporary and mission time histories. The women hold deep cultural knowledge of family kinship systems, sacred sites, esoteric characters and totems and are passionate about recording language and traditional stories to preserve and hand down to the younger generations.

How long have you been painting?

I only started painting three years ago after my lovely husband passed away. My big regret is that I never started painting earlier. See, my husband, he thought the world of me and he always encouraged me to come to the centre and do some painting here. I think he knew me better than I knew myself sometimes – he knew I would be good at it! But he was pretty sick from his diabetes and I didn’t want to miss out on any time I could spend with him.

When he passed away, I sat at home for a few weeks feeling sad, and then I thought he wouldn’t like to see that, so I decided to go to the centre and join the other ladies doing some painting. I loved it the moment I picked up that paint brush. I’m still surprised at how pretty some of my paintings turn out. I am very proud of myself – and I know my husband would be so proud too. I just wish I could have started sooner, so that he could have seen some of this money coming in from my Reef paintings!!

What is your favourite thing about the Arts and Cultural Centre?

You girls always have cups of tea and biscuits for us old ladies, I like that.

And, I think, it’s good not to be alone, especially if you are older and set in your ways. When I first started at the centre, my favourite thing about coming was that I could see all of my friends. Find a group of people to do your art with. Sometimes they can help you with ideas too, and my friends here always encourage me when I feel like giving up. Sometimes if I’m having a day that’s not so good and I don’t feel like painting, I still come here to have a cup of tea and a chat. It’s nice here. Since we got an Aboriginal manager, it’s become so good because she loves us. She makes us work but she doesn’t boss us around at all…except if we’re being very naughty.

What is your favourite subject to paint?

I like all painting. A few years ago, we all sat down and did some workshops for the 2021 “Belonging” exhibition that is happening soon – I got to paint about my life, and all my life stories, and I enjoyed that, getting to relive some of my happy memories with my family. But my most favourite things to paint are my coral reefs. I try to put a coral reef in most of my paintings now. I love them. It’s the best way to get all of my favourite colours into one picture, see?

When I was a very small girl, my parents took us all fishing, swimming and diving and that is when I fell in love with the reef. The colours are so pretty – so bright and beautiful, and the shapes of the coral are just crazy! I think the reef reflects my personality – I hate things that are dark and sad, and the coral reef never is. Even in the darkness late at night, the reef glows brightly.

What’s the next big project you have coming up?


But really, I don’t know. I want to perfect my sea-horses. They’re so funny and cute, but I am having some trouble capturing their weird little ways in my pictures. There are some big painting competitions coming up, and I am going to do some work for those. I want more people to see my reef paintings. I don’t really know what’s next for my art, but I just want to keep painting and I want to keep putting colour in people’s lives. So many people like paintings that have no colours in them, I think that is boring and I just don’t want everyone to be boring.

Any advice for artists who are just starting out?

Just go and do it! You’re never too old to start, but you will regret every day that passes that you weren’t doing it.

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According to the sacred stories of the Guugu Yimithirr people, the Rainbow Serpent resides in the twists and bends of the Wabalumbaal Birri, whose mouth opens onto the coral reef where, on the evening