Inspired by a childhood on the banks of queensland’s Warrego River, artist Geoff Manthey’s work is anything but mass-produced.

Story By Janette Jenyns

Geoff Manthey doesn't look the arty-crafty type. He’s a big bloke with strong workman’s hands but his eyes, warm and dark as molasses, betray the creative soul within. Geoff grew up in the south-west Queensland town of Cunnamulla, on the banks of the Warrego River. His large extended family of cousins, aunties and siblings was cared for by his grandmother, an elder with strong traditional values. It was a childhood filled with swimming, hunting, fishing and learning the stories of the Kooma tribe, but it was also peppered with incidents that made him feel excluded. Geoff felt the sting of racial comments and members of his family were called ‘fringe dwellers’ in reference to them living on the outskirts of town.
Geoff has always worked with his hands. He did heavy manual labour with a railway gang for many years, working on lines in Queensland between Charleville, Cooladdi and Quilpie. He also did farm work in Moree, NSW, and shot ’roos and pigs in Cape York for a living. Much later in life he developed his flair for art and woodwork, after being encouraged by other Aboriginal artists who wanted him to share his stories and translate them onto canvas.
Over time Geoff’s style has developed into a blend of traditional Aboriginal art and more contemporary techniques, resulting in a rich tapestry of form and colour that has both depth and dimension. Rich in symbolism, his intricate dot paintings reflect the seasons, the land and the stories he grew up with. Fishing and hunting scenes, traditional ceremonies, emus, kangaroos and reptiles are depicted in earthy tones of green, yellow and red.
“Handprints signify ownership and circles represent meeting places, bora rings or waterholes, which were important for trade and celebration,” Geoff says. “And circles connect, so it’s symbolic of our connection to the land.”
Geoff also loves to work with wood and uses native timbers that have been used for centuries to make tools, weapons and ceremonial instruments. For his didgeridoos he travels to the sandy ridges west of the Warrego and selects limbs of poplar box that have been hollowed out by termites. “These take months of work to smooth and shape with an axe and chisel,” Geoff says. “It’s hard to compete with the mass-produced stuff they sell on the coast – they copy our designs and pay backpackers to make them with power tools.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #82

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2012