Tommy Watson is a senior Pitjantjatara elder and Law man of Karima skin group. His given names of Yannima and Pikarli relate to specific sites near Anumarapiti, located 75 Kilometers West of the small community of Irrunytju (near the tri-sate border of Western Australia, South Australia and The Northern Territory). Tommy unfortunately has no recollection of his mother who died during his infancy; however he does remember his father who also unfortunately died when Tommy was about eight years old. Tommy subsequently went to live with his father’s brother who then sadly died two years later. Following this series of unfortunate deaths within his family Tommy was then adopted by Nicodemus Watson, his father’s first cousin. It was at this point that Tommy went to live at Ernabella Mission, and decided to take the surname Watson in addition to his Aboriginal birth name thus becoming Tommy Yannima Pikarli Watson.
Nicodemus Watson proved to be a strong father figure, teaching a young Tommy the traditional skills of hunting and gathering required to lead a nomadic existence in the harsh terrain of the Australian desert. They traveled great distances from Ernabella through the Musgrave Ranges and onwards toward the Petersham Ranges. Tommy learned key skills required for survival in such a hostile climate including, but not limited to, the fashioning of tools and weapons from trees using burning coals, how and what to hunt, and most importantly how and where to find water. In this harsh and ancient country, under the guidance of his adopted father Nicodemus Watson, Tommy gained a deep understanding of his physical environment and its relationship to his own ancestral stories. To the Aboriginal peoples of Australia these ancestral stories are collectively known as Tjukurrpa.
Tommy Watson’s first contact with white Australians was when he was sent to school at the Ernabella Mission which opened in 1940. Tommy was not at Ernabella for long before he was taken back to his community to be initiated. Tommy Watson’s upbringing is similar to that of many Indigenous people born around the same time, from that point forward living a traditional nomadic existence until his early teens and working as a stockman and labourer. During his time working at Papunya he met the school teacher Geoffrey Bardon who was pivotal in supporting the developing Aboriginal Art movement.
For further information on Tommy’s work or to request a catalogue of available work contact Alex McCulloch.
Tommy Watson is represented by Piermarq Gallery in Sydney and Metro Gallery in Melbourne.