Ngarralja Tommy May Yarrnkurnja, the Great Sandy Desert, WA, Australia, b. 1935
Ngarralja is a Wangkatjunga/Walmajarri man. He was born at Yarrnkurnja, in the Great Sandy Desert. He dances and sings Kurtal, a cermony relating to the main jila (living waterhole) in his country. He is also a painter and printmaker. He is now referred to as Karrayili which means middle aged person. He is not yet an elder, but he has been given the job of spokesman by his old people. He is fluent in both Wangkajiunga and Walmajarri languages as well as English. He also writes Walmajarri. He was one of the first people to start up the Karrayili Adult Education centre because he wanted to learn to read and write in his own language and English.
"I was big when I left my country. I was already hunting by myself. I was with my young brother and my mother. My father had passed away by this time. I know these stories and these places in my country. We are not allowed to paint that story for other people's country. We will get killed or into trouble if we do this. We put that easy story, not a really hard story like law business. We can't paint that either. I first saw paintings in caves. I learned a lot from people, mostly my father and grandfather. I was living all around in my country, camping all around. Wurna juwal, always moving. When I paint I think about this. My work is now like my drawing for printmaking, straight onto the tin, sometimes wood, using a knife or pens. I work every day, and I've travelled a lot with the paintings. Singapore, Houston, Washington DC, like that."
He is an important person for arts and culture in Fitzroy Crossing and was the formal Deputy Chairman of Mangkaja Arts and formal Chairman of Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC). Ngarralja was also an executive for the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA) Board of Director's, and was a contributing artist to the Ngurarra Canvas used in the successful native title claim.
In 2020 he was awarded the top prize in the prestigious Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.