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Vale Donny Woolagoodja and Janet Oobagooma

Together with Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation, we mourn the passing of two most senior Traditional Owners, Donny Woolagoodja and Janet Oobagooma.

We also want to celebrate their lives and their invaluable contributions to the continuation of their community, as knowledge holders and advocates for their people. Their inspiring presence will be greatly missed.

Janet Oobagooma (centre), Kim Doohan, Christina Henneke & Richard Kuba discussing archival material from the collections of the Frobenius Institute at the facilities of the Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation in Derby in July 2022. Photo: Martin Porr

Janet spent her formative years primarily in the company of old people from whom she learned to understand her world as formed in Lalai, how to live off the land, about God the Wanjina and how to read and write English and Woddordda at the mission school at Kunmunya. Janet worked tirelessly to secure a better future for her children and grandchildren in the face of some very difficult and trying personal, policy and political contexts. Janet continued to provide advice and direction to her community members and cultural interpretation about her country and Lalai to the wider Australian public. She also generously collaborated with members of CRAR+M, who profited immensely from her advice and guidance.

Yorna (Donny Woolagoodja) - Senior Woddordda Elder and Knowledge Holder – has for many decades been one of the key voices to communicate the complex and important meanings of the Wanjina Wunggurr art and culture to an academic and wider audience. His collaborative book with Valda Blundell, Keeping the Wanjinas Fresh, stands out, as does his recent autobiography Yornadaiyn Woolagoodja. He shows in both these books the multilayered connections between Wanjina Wunggurr rock art and Wanjina Wunggurr Country and Lalai, and how important these aspects are for the identity of the Wanjina Wunggurr community. These aspects are seamlessly connected to artistic expressions on canvas, paper, or similar materials, which point to a broader understanding of artistic expression beyond exhibitions in museums or art galleries.

Donny Woolagoodja (centre), Richard Kuba, Christina Henneke, and Joh Bornman discussing the presentation of archive prints from the collections of the Frobenius Institute at the facilities of the Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation in Derby in July 2022. Photo: Kim Doohan

Yorna’s generosity extended to his role with the wider research community, and he was (between 2013 - 2018) on the Advisory Board of the Centre for Rock Art Research and Management at UWA. Yorna has shown us how worlds are understood and created through artistic practice and collaboration.

Both Janet and Yorna were the driving forces behind important initiatives to support the recording and preservation of traditional cultural knowledge. They both were key voices in the Dambeemangaddee Future Generations Resources Project by the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation. Developed and conducted with many collaborators, researchers, and Traditional Owners, this multi-decadal project has so far resulted in a large amount of invaluable data, some of which is public. Both Janet and Yorna have contributed to the publication of three books that document important aspects of the history of the Wanjina Wunggurr community and allow invaluable insights into both ancient and contemporary Wanjina Wunggurr art.

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