Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that the following pages may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.

Elliott Koonutta is a masterful artist skilled in wood carving, painting, printing and ghost net sculpture. He is also a talented musician and singer.

Elliott was born in Aurukun and raised by his grand parents. They were traditional people and spoke only language, no English.

‘My grandfather was a crocodile sorcerer, and had three pet crocodiles. I remember him showing them to me.

I went to Aurukun mission school until I was 14 years old. Then I worked as a drover at Bass Yard, outside Pormpuraaw. Jackson Short Joe, a Pormpuraaw man, adopted me, which allowed me to live and go to school in Pormpuraaw. I worked there for 12 months and then went back to Aurukun and went bush to my tribal country Kendal River. I lived in a tin shed with my parents, brothers and sisters. About 15 of us lived there and received our supplies by airplane every week. We had a two-way radio and could order supplies that way. This was the best time of my life and it lasted for about three & a half years. We lived on bush tucker – yams, goanna, wallaby, and other bush foods. At one time, a cyclone came and blew away our tin shed. We were all hiding in the scrub trying to survive. I had pet puppies. I wrapped them in a blanket. I curled myself around them to keep them warm, and they kept me warm. We helped each other survive. The cyclone destroyed our airstrip. So the plane was forced to then drop our supplies without landing.

When I was 17, I went back to work in Aurukun, at Bamboo Station. I stayed working there for two and a half years. They fed us, but we earned no money. Eventually, I was paid $7000 as part of the Queensland Government’s ‘Stolen Wages’ program.

I have always been a musician and started by playing the ukulele and singing. I was selected to take a 3 year music course in Adelaide. I loved Adelaide and went to the zoo. I was well cared for. I would go to the beach, diving with mask, snorkel and flippers. I shared a flat with three others in North Adelaide. We all got along well, and had a great experience. I learned to play guitar. I am the lead guitarist of our Pormpuraaw band. I play by ear because I am unable to read music.

During the 1990s, I went back to Aurukun and worked at the Art Centre. I worked with Hedley Karyuka and we did wood carving and made some good sales. Back then my carvings were based on traditional ceremonies. In the old days, my people would carve a totem and then dance with it and sing clan songs. These songs and dances come from the land and are part of it.

I moved back to Pormpuraaw in 2004, and have been working at the Art Centre here ever since. When I make art I feel good inside. I like to explain to young people what we are doing.I mostly work with ghost net these days. I want people to learn about the damage these nets cause to sea life.