Born: Burra Bee Dee Mission, NSW
LANGUAGE GROUP: Kamilaroi
COMMUNITY: Coonabarabran, NSW
Tony Sorby is a descendant of the Kamilaroi people and was born on Burra Bee Dee Mission outside of Coonabarabran, NSW. Coonabarabran sits in Kamilaroi country which covers vast expanses of inland north western NSW and parts of inland Queensland's border country.
Like many children of mixed parentage and in line with the conventional wisdom of the day, Tony was taken from his family as an infant and spent his childhood in various orphanages, foster homes and institutions around the state of NSW. This childhood and early adulthood experience was to have a profound effect on Tony, his approach to life and to his culture. It was only at the age of 12 years that he discovered his aboriginal roots but he was not to re-establish connection with his family until after more than 20 years of separation.
Typical of many Aboriginal people who experienced an unsettled upbringing, life for Tony was tough. He moved from job to job, place to place and spent harrowing periods in detention. Though, meeting him today, one would never know about his trials and traumas. Tony is a man at home with himself and proud of his culture.
Tony's art career was originally sparked by his growing interest in his Aboriginal heritage, leading initially to him formally studying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture. As he grew more engaged and more confident, he began to experiment with different media to express his growing sense of Aboriginal identity, finally settling on paintings as the best way to tell his people's stories.
Today, Tony paints in a confident and distinctive style, is characterised by the bold use of Aboriginal symbols and pays homage to the Aboriginal dot art techniques pioneered by the western desert's Pintupi artists. In his own words:
My paintings represent the Kamilaroi lands. This includes the sacred sites, trees, sandstone caves, escarpments, mountains, hunting tracks, hunting grounds, meeting places and the journey tracks and campsites of the Kamilaroi people. The blue lines coursing through some of my artworks depict water, representing two rivers, the Castlereagh & the Barwon, as well as creeks & billabongs.
Copyright: Geoffrey Henderson, Kate Owen Gallery, 13 May 2020