Gabriella Wallace was born at Arltunga, approximately 100 kilometres east of Alice Springs. She was the ninth of eleven children born to Elisa and Bruce Wallace.
Her home was a bush humpy at Arltunga for the first eight years of her life but by 1953 the Arltunga water supply deteriorated to the point where they had to leave. With the use of some old trucks, her family moved to Santa Teresa Mission that consisted at the time of a few houses, a school, a church and a little hospital.
Initially the family moved into an old tin shed. Soon after, a girls’ dormitory was built by the Catholic Mission where Gabriella took up residence during the week. She joined her parents 'over the hill' on weekends and for school holidays.
Rations in those days were flour, tea and sugar, with the remainder of their diet consisting of bush tucker and vegetables from the Mission’s vegetable gardens.
Gabriella received a basic education of reading, writing and needlecraft from the nuns at Santa Teresa. She also loved to go on bush excursions and to watch her brother Gordon paint. This is where her interest in painting developed. With the help and encouragement of others, including a Mr Sorjack who painted portraits of Aboriginal people, Dr Ethol Robinson and particularly Sister Anastasia, Gabriella began a life of painting.
Her art-making began with coloured pencils and charcoal on paper, eventually moving on to watercolours, oils, gouache and acrylics. Gabriella’s first subjects were charcoal portraits of old people before venturing into landscapes and bush scenes. The artist subsequently taught herself to paint birds, animals and bush foods.
This shy artist continues to paint today, mostly landscapes in acrylics, but also works in the dot painting technique with an emphasis on bush tucker themes. Gabriella says that by painting this way, the kids of today will be able to recognize what things they should eat. This is particularly directed at town and camp kids, as well as bush kids who are continually attracted to town. She says these youngsters today don’t know what bush tucker to eat.
Gabriella is not a prolific painter and her art is rarely seen in galleries or other commercial outlets. Over the forty years that she has been painting there has never been a shortage of people wanting to purchase her work. They include cattle station people, taxi drivers, schoolteachers, a vast array of visitors to Santa Teresa, American base people, doctors and medical staff. The secondary market for her work is practically non-existent, as people rarely want to part with it.
Therese Ryder, an excellent artist in her own right who learnt to paint with Gabriella, says “Gabriella takes her time on works. She doesn’t always get into paintings. When she’s really in the mood she will get back into it. She’s very shy. And she’s very modest. I put her paintings way out in front of anyone’s. She’s the best woman so far.”
Without doubt, Gabriella Wallace is a brilliant artist and a wonderful person.
Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery is proud to have her artwork and we hope that as a result the world will come to appreciate Gabriella as a truly great Australian artist.