Nyoongar artist Sandra Hill was born in South Perth in 1951. Her mother’s clan are the Ballardong and Wilmen people and her father’s are the Wardandi and Minang people of Western Australia. Hill was taken from her mother’s care in 1958 along with her two sisters and her brother. The family was living in Point Samson in the Pilbara region of northern Western Australia at the time of this forced removal. The children were placed into Sister Kate’s Orphanage for 'half-caste’ children. This organisation helped place mixed race children into foster care, as was the practice of the day under the Assimilation Policy. Hill and one of her sisters were fostered to a non-Aboriginal family with whom she remained until she was married in 1968.
After raising three children (visual artists Christopher Pease and Ben Pushman and daughter, Tracie Pushman, who holds a Psychology degree), Hill returned to study, and in 1981 she received an Advanced Diploma in Art Studies from Swan TAFE’s Balga campus in Perth. In 1989, after showing her work in numerous minor shows, she was invited to display her work in the joint exhibition 'Earth, Sea, Sky’ at Gallery Arteque in Subiaco. This was followed by another Gallery Arteque joint exhibition, the 'Chair Exhibition’, in 1990. Her first solo exhibition, a self-titled show, was held in 1993 at the Guildford Hotel in Guildford, Perth.
In 1994 Hill moved to Geraldton where she was employed as the Aboriginal Community Cultural Officer. During this period she applied for, and was awarded, a Creative Development Fellowship from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. This afforded her the time to carry out research relating to her life experiences as a member of the Stolen Generations. This research resulted in her second solo exhibition, 'Footprints in Time: A Childhood Experience’, shown at the Artist In Residence Gallery in Perth in 1995. In the same year she was accepted as a finalist in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin.
In 1996, while residing in Mandurah in the southwest of Western Australia, Hill became heavily involved in the local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community. She coordinated the two day 'Fish Mungah Aboriginal Cultural Arts Festival’, which celebrated the survival of the Nyoongar people and their culture. It was during the planning for the 1997 'Fish Mungah Festival’ that she expressed an idea for an exhibition of southwest Aboriginal art to be shown during the 'Fish Mungah Festival’ at the new Mandurah Cultural Centre. She approached Dr John E Stanton, Director of the Berndt Museum of Anthropology, to see if any of the older Carrolup Mission Aboriginal children’s artwork, along with more contemporary southwest Aboriginal works in the Berndt Collection, could be loaned for exhibition.
Hill, at this time, was a member on the Berndt Museum Board and was frustrated at people’s misconceptions that Nyoongar art was not 'real’ Aboriginal art. She believed that if the public could see the transition of the children’s artworks, created in 1930s – 40s, to more contemporary Nyoongar works, it would allow them to see how the work of Nyoongar artists has evolved into what it is today.
Dr Stanton invited Hill to curate the exhibition of works sourced from the Berndt Collection and she titled the show 'Aboriginal Artists of The South West: Past and Present’. The exhibition opened at the Mandurah Cultural Centre in 1999 and was also shown at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery at the University of Western Australia. Hill showed her print and photographic collage Stoker Hill in this exhibition. Stoker Hill comments on her experiences of the loss of family and of identity she felt as a Stolen Child. In her artist’s statement in the exhibition’s catalogue she states that this work was “a very difficult piece to complete, to confront …. it is a page out of my own life, my own story: a letter from my father, who was a serviceman, and a newspaper article about him. It is very important to me, this painting.” (in Stanton 2000, pg 30).
Hill works across various media, including painting, printing, mixed-media collage, sculpture, installation and public art. Having these skills has meant that Hill has been in constant demand as an arts worker and she has worked for a number of institutions including the Longmore Remand Centre, Curtin University of Technology, Fish Mungah Aboriginal Cultural Arts Festival, Geraldton Regional Community Education, Artsource, Edith Cowan University and Fremantle Prison, undertaking roles such as workshop presenter, lecturer, teacher and researcher. She has worked collaboratively with Jenny Dawson on a number of public art projects (murals, sculptures and mosaics) for many different organisations including Djidi-Djidi Aboriginal Primary School, Koongamia, Melville and Mount Pleasant Primary Schools (2003-2004), Edith Cowan University (2004), Ferrara Park, Girrawheen, Moora District Hospital and Mandurah Community Health Campus (2005), Leighton Beach Redevelopment and Ellenbrook Police Station (2006). In 2007 she worked solo on the Ngunnawal Aboriginal Art Project for the Chief Minister’s Office in Canberra, ACT.
Though working on art projects and in various teaching positions for more than twenty-five years, Hill continues to produce her own studio based work and exhibits regularly. In 2001 she participated in the group show 'International Artists Workshop’ at the John Curtin Gallery at Curtin University of Technology and in 2003 Brenda L. Croft included her in the Art Gallery of Western Australia’s exhibition 'South-West Central: Indigenous Art from south Western Australia 1833-2002’. The works shown in this exhibition were three solvent transfer prints, Half-caste – a social experiment (1995), Aborigines and fisheries and Dear Mr Neville (both 1997). In her artist’s statement in the accompanying catalogue Hill states:
“Art is a wonderful tool in terms of assisting in the 'healing’ process. It is a positive way to tell of the tragic and sorrowful consequences of past Government practices and it’s a way to lead people into a more positive future in so many ways. It’s also a very appropriate way to continue our traditions in terms of telling stories from a visual perspective – it’s almost like historical references from a visual perspective.” (in Croft 2003, pg 65).
In 2003 Hill participated in the inaugural Indigenous international visual arts residency 'Communion and Other Conversations: Colonialism and Christianity’ at the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta, Canada. Other Australian participants in this seven-week residency were Gordon Hookey, Janice Peacock, Karen Mills, Jenny Fraser and Richard Bell. The works created by the participants at Banff were shown in two exhibitions, 'Nii’kso’kowa’ and 'Turtle Island’, at The Other Gallery in the Banff Centre.
Other group shows since her Canadian experience include 2004’s 'Mine Own Executioner’ at Mundaring Art Centre; 2007’s 'Spirit of Carrolup’ at Albany Town Hall as part of the Festival of Perth; and Gomboc Gallery’s 25th Anniversary exhibition. In September/October 2008, Hill presented a solo exhibition titled 'Moordidjabininy (becoming strong) – Celebrating Identity’ at Gomboc Gallery and Sculpture Park. It was her first solo exhibition since 1999.
In 2009 Hill was included in 'The Legacy of Koorah Coolingah’, curated by the Mungart Boodja Arts Centre of Katanning, Western Australia. This exhibition presented paintings by the child artists of Carrolup Native Settlement (loaned by the Berndt Museum of Anthropology) and contemporary works by Noongar artists including Lance Chadd, Graham (Swag) Taylor and Charlie Colbung . 'The Legacy of Koorah Coolingah’ was exhibited at the Brisbane Powerhouse Arts Centre at New Farm on the banks of the Brisbane River from 28 April to 17 May 2009.
Hill’s work is held in many private collections and is also represented in institutional collections, including that of the the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Claremont School of Art, Edith Cowan University, the Berndt Museum of Anthropology, the City of Bunbury, the Western Australian Museum, Queens University (Ontario, Canada), the Holmes a Court Collection, the Dutch Embassy in Canberra, the Cruthers Foundation at the University of Western Australia and the Dutch Royal Archives in the Netherlands.

Allas, Tess
Date written:
Last updated: