Joseph Snowy McDonald was born in Alice Springs in 1981. He grew up in Mt Liebig and Papunya, attending school at Papunya School. He never went to town for secondary education, preferring to learn in the bush. His grandfather, Old Snowy McDonald, a former stockman and talented hunter, taught him the stories and skills required to live in his country. His grandmother, Martha McDonald, paints with Papunya Tjupi and is exhibited internationally.