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Ocean the inspirational catch for Pilbara artist Wendy Warrie

David Prestipino -

When First Nations people were forced to move to Roebourne in 1975, a group of Elders decided they would camp in the old wool shed buildings of Mt Welcome Station just south of the problem-riddled town.

It was here Roebourne's reputation as a hotspot for Indigenous art was born. Art making in the town originated with those original Elders, who moved to what is now the Cheeditha community.

The revitalised Cheeditha Art Group carries on the commitment of those early artists, and many of those practicing today are relatives of those founders.

In 2002, the Bujee Nhoor-Pu project was established in the historic Galbraith Store at Cossack, supporting the production and sales of artworks.

The success of the Bujee Nhoor-Pu project spread to the broader community of Roebourne, and these artists formed other independent art groups, reflecting the cultural diversity of the town.

One of them was Wendy Warrie, whose mother was also an artist, and who forms part of the Cheeditha Art Group, a small cooperative showcasing the culture and creativity of the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi people from the Pilbara region.

Other artists at the studio on Northwest Coastal Highway include emerging young artists Cassandra Hicks, the daughter of renowned Ngarluma Elder and artist, Nana Pansy Hicks, and two of Ms Warrie's sisters.

Artists from several language groups at other studios in Roebourne, including Yindjibarndi, Kariyarra, Ngarluma and Eastern Guruma, produce works with a difference, utilising painting and other artforms such as glassmaking and textiles to create scarves and tote bags that tell their stories and culture.

Wendy is the signature artist at this year's Colours of our Country exhibition by Rio Tinto, which evolved from a pop-up exhibition to a high-profile annual event now in its 18th year.

The event is a celebrated platform for artists, unveiling a kaleidoscope of stunning works pulsating with cultural significance, intertwining Aboriginal history with artistic brilliance.

Since its inception in 2006, some 2,860 artworks have been sold at the exhibition, generating more than $3.1 million for local artists, their art groups and communities.

A Yindjibarndi/ Kariyarra woman, Ms Warrie has has been painting since 2001 and previously worked with Roebourne Art Group, exhibiting in the Cossack Art Award and Ngurra Nyingu exhibitions.

"I have been sending my paintings to Colours since it started," she said.

"I like to go to Perth and see the paintings hanging and meet the people who come to see them. It's really good that Rio support us and help us to sell our paintings."

This year's line-up features independent artists and art centres including Yinjaa-Barni Art Centre, Wangaba Roebourne Art Group, Juluwarlu Art Group and Cheeditha.

Ms Warrie's piece 'Out on the Horizon' depicts the creation story of the Yindjibarndi people.

"The Barrimirndi (Rainbow Serpent), from the time when the land was soft, his journey inland formed the Fortescue River and made the country hard," she explains about her art.

The flooding rivers that feature in Ms Warrie's artwork represent the rough water where the tide comes in and meets the flooded rivers.

She said she still loves to go fishing, often drawing inspiration for her art from the sea.

"When I go fishing I like to watch the tide come in and throw in my fishing line and wait for a bite," she said.

"When I look out to sea I see a storm cloud gathering on the horizon. I get scared sometimes because it might be a big storm coming and I go sit in the car."

Wendy is is one of dozens of independent artists and others from art centres in the region whose work features at the Colours of our Country exhibition, showcasing a vibrant collectoin of more than 200 unique Aboriginal artworks, from almost 50 artists, at Rio Tinto's Central Park bulding until October 20.

Artwork can be purchased in person or online, with all proceeds going directly to the artists, art centres and their communities.

More information on the Colours of our Country exhibition can be found here.

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