Meet Brian “Binna” Swindley

​​​​​​​Meet Brian ​“Binna” Swindley​​​​

​​​​“I don't do Dreamtime stories; I paint what is around me,” says Brian “Binna” Swindley, a proud Kuku Yalanji man and the owner of Janbal Gallery in the leafy town of Mossman, just outside Port Douglas.

"I paint food from the mudflats, stories about how to hunt for crabs, and cassowary footprints. That’s what is painted on our bodies for ceremonies, so that's what I put on my art,” he adds.

That might be so, but as soon as I walk through the tangerine doors and into the colourful womb that makes up Janbal Gallery, my eyes latch onto a triptych of suitcase-sized paintings of Yiki people. Against obsidian black canvases, these spirit people – revered for their protective powers – come with oversized anime style eyes and a Warhol shock of hair.

​I simply must have one. But first I need to learn more about Binna.

Born deaf, Binna is the first to admit that it has not been easy for someone with a disability to run a business, let alone an Aboriginal art gallery on the doorstep of the world’s oldest rainforest.

“But I work very hard,” he says, as he recounts his life journey in a heartbeat of memories that meander from a childhood horsing around the Daintree Rainforest with an extended network of cousins, to two years at Cairns TAFE, to the present; juggling creativity and commerce at his 100% Aboriginal-owned gallery.​
Brian Binna Swindley

Brian Binna Swindley

​Binna can lip read impeccably and loves nothing more than a long, cheeky chat about his artwork and his culture; a character fine point that made me almost miss my flight twice.

His uncle, a boomerang artist who reimagined the rock art found in the caves and cliffs of Quinkan country north of Gimuy (Cairns), first inspired him to paint. As did his beloved mother, Shirley Swindley, who picked up a brush in 1995 and went on to become a commercial artist, selling some of her work to the Sheraton Mirage hotel in Port Douglas. 

Binna’s parents had hoped their son would take a different profession. Shirley wanted him to be an electrician; his dad also fancied a trade – possibly a diesel fitter – at the local sugar mill. 

All that changed when Binna signed up for art college and fell in love with the idea of reproducing aspects of his culture on canvas.

“My paintings are more contemporary, (and are) from the rainforest and the sea. That’s where I get all my ideas from,” he says.

“I love to paint these; they’re all about how you get out hunting and gathering food. The cassowary is my totem. It is a big, lovely bird and is the oldest bird in the rainforest,” he says.

Away from his colourful canvasses, Binna also hosts art classes using pots of acrylic paint bought from the local art store (there’s no need to produce traditional ‘ink’ by rubbing rock against rock) and either a burnie bean or a small canvas as the catchall for inspiration.

The three colours Binna uses are ochre to represent the earth, red for the sun and white to show the rain. 

At this point he throws me a challenge. “So, can you make the perfect Aboriginal painting?”

I look to that triptych of animated Quinkan faces for inspiration. “Sure,” I nod, “But I will need your Yiki people to guide me.”

Story by Shelley Winkel
Tourism and Events Queensland​

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