Minnie Pwerle (Minnie Purla, Minnie Motorcar Apwerl)

c.1920 - 2006

Minne Pwerle began painting in 2000 at the age of about 80. In the 6 years that followed until her death in 2006 she became established as one of Australia’s greatest female Aboriginal artists. She ranks alongside other Indigenous female painters Kathleen Petyarre, Gloria Petyarre and Dorothy Napangardi.

Her paintings can be found in major public collections across Australia including Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery of South Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and Queenland Art Gallery. Her works were also included in the 2009 exhibition of Indigenous Australian painting at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Minnie Pwerle was born in the early 20th century near Utopia in the Northern Territory, about 300 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs. Utopia was a cattle station and Minnie worked for the pastoralists until it was returned to indigenous ownership in the late 1970s. She was one of six children.

She gave birth to her daughter Barbara when she was a teenager. Barbara’s father, Jack Weir owned the neighbouring station. In those days interracial relationships were a crime and both parents were jailed.

On her release now as a young woman, she walked 600 kilometres, carrying her baby, back to her outstation at Utopia. Nine years later her daughter was taken from her as one of the stolen generation.

Believing her daughter to have been killed, it was not until 10 years later that Barbara tracked down her family. Barbara Weir went on to become an established artist, and it was Barbara who encouraged her to paint in the later years of her life. Whilst waiting for her daugher to finish a painting, Minnie was given a canvas and some paint.

The inspiration for her art came from her involvement in traditional Aboriginal ceremonies where she was responsible for applying the body paint designs to the participants in women’s ceremonies called Awely. These are linear designs painted onto the chest, breast, arms and thighs using powders ground from red ochre and ash. Minnie also painted the Dreamtime story of the Bush Melon- Anemangkerr.

She painted very spontaneously, and her works are bold and colourful with predominantly free-flowing lines. Her paintings immediately captured the attention of the art market not only in Australia but around the world, and soon became popular and sought after.

A prolific painter, Pwerle was an extremely hard worker who was up at down painting solidly most days. When asked if Minnie enjoyed painting, Minnie’s family always replied ‘absolutely’, and this was evidenced in her enthusiasm to paint, freedom of brush stroke and fervour of colour.

In March 2006, Minnie Pwerle died after a stroke at her home at Utopia. In her short career she had become established as one of Australia’s greatest female aboriginal artists. Asked why she had no begun painting earlier she replied “No one asked me”.


  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
  •  Art Gallery of South Australia
  •  La Trobe University Collection
  •  AMP Collection
  •  Art Gallery of NSW
  •  Hank Ebes Collection
  • Kelton Foundation
  • Kreglinger Collection
  • Mbantua Collection
  • Queensland Art Gallery
  • Thomas Vroom Collection


  1. Minnie Pwerle - Wikipedia
  2. A shy woman of wild colours by Susan McCulloch. Sydney Morning Herald obituary. April 2006.
  3. Kate Owen Gallery.
  4. Mbantua Gallery.

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