Mistake Creek Massacre bears size, date, title and catalogue number QM0061 on the reverse natural earth pigments on canvas 100 x 200cm (39 3/8 x 78 3/4in).
PROVENANCE Painted at Warmun in 1997 Kimberley Australian Aboriginal Art, Melbourne Private collection
Cf. Mistake Creek Massacre, 1997, in J.J. Field, Written in the Land: The Life of Queenie McKenzie, Melbourne: Melbourne Books, 2008. See also The camp at Mistake Creek, 1980, by Rover Thomas in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia in R. Thomas et al., Roads Cross: The paintings of Rover Thomas, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1994, p.50 (illus.).
In the late 1980s Rover Thomas, the leader of the Eastern Kimberley painting group, chose the history of the clashes between cattle station workers and Aboriginal people as a subject of his work. The massacres occurred periodically with the introduction of cattle to the Kimberley in the late nineteenth century. While the causes of these skirmishes were often complex, they came about because cattle polluted freshwater sources with a consequent depletion in numbers of large game upon which Aboriginal groups relied. To substitute for the loss, Aboriginal people would on occasion butcher cattle which caused station owners to retaliate.
As with Rover Thomas, who Queenie McKenzie had worked with on cattle stations in their earlier years, and who was a close friend and painting companion until they died within months of each other, McKenzie also painted episodes of the modern history of the Kimberley and the effects of the cattle industry on the lives of Aboriginal people.
The Mistake Creek massacre occurred in 1915. The victims of this killing had previously survived an attack at Horseshoe Creek (another of Queenie McKenzie's painting subjects) and had fled to Mistake Creek. Here they were set upon again and the bodies of the slain were burnt on a pyre. In the painting the perpetrators appear as two figures wearing white hats and bearing weapons; the firewood and pyre are depicted to the left of a fallen boab tree, painted white, while another boab stands in testimony of the event (the Warmun community has erected a memorial to the slain on the site). A bower bird, which is not depicted, and its offspring are considered the spirits of the dead. The landscape in the left section of the painting features waterholes, creeks and hills of the surrounding country.