Nyoongar artist Yondee Shane Hansen was born in the south-west of Western Australia in 1964, at Dumbleyung, 270 km south of Perth. He grew up around Narrogin and later near Guildford on the outskirts of Perth. His story of his early life and his attraction to painting gives a strong idea of how his life story feeds into his role as an Aboriginal artist.
Yondee Shane Hansen was taught about hunting and shown sand drawings by his father. Around the age of ten he would travel and visit his aunties on the Swan River and would collect paper bark to help them in their art work. It was here that he started to learn about art from his older relatives who are known for their painting on paper bark. Yondee Shane Hansen remembers from this time – “ The bark had been burnt and then soaked. We would float it in the river, then the old people would grab it, put it in hessian bags, take it up the hill and dry it out for a couple of days. They’d use flour and water glue and charcoal for paint.”
“I started painting with house paints that we found on the rubbish tip. That was at the Reserve at Narrogin – Granite Road, that was four or five kms out of town. We had to walk in to get to town. I started drawing with charcoal, drawing on the light grey logs that had no bark. I love the simplicity of black and white, the strength. The black is fire, the white is the tree. From childhood, that’s why I mostly paint black and white paintings.”
“Later on when we moved to the outskirts of Perth, to Swan View, we would walk down to the river, and light fires along the side of the river, and collect paper bark. Art was all around me – in the paddocks when the flowers came, in the fields and the crops, along the rivers and around the rocks.”
“Before we came to Perth, back then we were clearing and working on the land- mallee root picking, going from farm to farm. The framers were clearing the land and you could make money collecting mallee roots. We lived in Reserves in some of the towns. We had 25 living in one 2 bedroom house, we slept on hessian bags with a fire tin in the middle of the house.”
“The World Health Organization brought rice biscuits, malnutrition biscuits they called them. We kids thought they were great. Behind the Health car came the Church bus, trapping the children, the mission people. We didn’t understand them. The kids would run out like mice, we didn’t know what they were on about – mystery people. There was a Noongar grape vine, it started at the top of the hill, hand signals and hand movements.”
“We used to play at the Government dam, where they would fill the steam trains. We would collect coal along the railway line in the Narrogin area. The coal burned very hot, if you put too much coal on the stove fire it would melt the pot. You had to use just the little bits.”
“Then we started moving, we didn’t know at the time, working on the land and hunting. My grandmother spoke full Noongar language. My Grandfather sang Noongar songs. Nan was influential in our lives, she would make dampers and and a big pot of stew. The old people would eat first and then us kids. When it ran out, that was it. There was no hot water, just the copper which was heated up from the fire. The five kids would lined up, jump into the bath early, before it got too hot. First the bath, then wash the clothes after.”
Talking about his art practice today, Yondee Shane Hansen says – “ I make sand paintings, collecting sand from the creeks. You have to wash it to get the salt out, but the sand is different out of the creeks, its smoother. When you have washed it a few times and sieved it, then mixed with paint, it’s good to use. When I make sand paintings using black and white, it’s that simple strong message.”
An experienced and accomplished artist, Yondee Shane Hansen has developed ways of working with sand and ochres to depict the stories and legends of his people. He also paints detailed figurative works based on mission life, hunting and animals. His works are abstract in their presentation but narrative in their content. As a child, Yondee Shane Hansen learnt his grandfather’s ground paintings and wishes to continue these and feels the translation of them to sand paintings does them justice and brings them to new audiences. The artist’s bush name Yondee means Black Goanna.
Yondee Shane Hansen has painted with the Campfire group of Aboriginal artists in Brisbane as well as exhibiting his work in galleries in Western Australia, NSW, Queensland and overseas (USA and Ireland).
2011 In Black and White, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA