Margaret Scobie Purgarda - BUSH MEDICINE LEAVES MS1765

Margaret Scobie Purgarda Bush Medicine Leaves Australian Aboriginal Art Painting on canvas MS1765


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Artist: Margaret Scobie
Skin Name: Purgarda 
Born: c.1948
Region: Alice Springs, Central Australia
Language: Anmatyerre
Subjects and Themes(Dreaming): Awelye, Honey Ant & Mountain Devil Lizard, Bush Medicine Leaves.



Margaret Scobie was born in 1948, at this time many Aboriginal people born in this period were given birth dates of the 1st of January as their actual date of birth was unknown. Margaret is an Anmatyerre woman from the Utopia

region in Central Australia. She was born at Woola Downs, her mother was siblings with the famous Petyarre sisters (Gloria, Kathleen, and Ada to name a few).

Whilst Margaret did spend time on her traditional homelands as a young child she has spent the majority of her life living in Alice Springs. As a child she attended Ross Park Primary School and whilst she does return to Utopia at times she primarily resides in Alice Springs were she is a well known figure of the community. Margaret has been painting for the majority of her life. She was introduced to painting during “Awelye” ceremonies. As a tribal woman Margaret would often be involved in the body painting that is involved during these women’s ceremonies whereby the women will apply an ochre paste (traditional paint) to their upper bodies, chest, breasts and shoulders. Awelye ceremonies are a significant feature for Anmatyerre women and involve ceremonies and rituals to pay homage to their ancestors and Dreamings. Margaret is well known for her “Bush Medicine Leaves” Dreaming paintings; they are vibrant, full of colour and give you the impression of moving leaves in the desert. Whilst her artworks are not considered collectable they are extremely popular. Other subjects sometimes covered in her paintings involve the Honey Ant and Mountain Devil, although these are not as popular as her Bush Medicine Leaves. The Bush Medicine Leaves depict the leaves of particular plants which Aboriginal women collect from the Utopia region in Central Australia. The leaves contain medicinal properties and are used for traditional bush medicine. The leaves are boiled and Kangaroo resin added and made into a paste. This is then used to treat wounds, cuts, boils and rashes. This traditional medicine is paid homage during Awelye ceremonies. Margaret’s paintings are a good alternative to art lovers who appreciate her technique and the beauty of her artworks without having the collectability or price of much more highly sought after artists such as Gloria Petyarre, Minnie Pwerle or the famous Emily Kame Kngwarreye – other female artists from the Utopia region.

This painting represents the Leaves that were traditionally used for medicine. This practice was used long before western medicine was introdused to the aboriginal people.

The bush medicine leaves are collected by the women and are highly prized for their restorative powers as part of traditional health practices.

Bush medicine leaves derive from a particular native shrub which grows abundantly in the desert regions of Utopia, north-east of Alice Springs. During the life of the plant, the leaves change colour and exhibit different medicinal properties. The artists who paint this story represent the leaves as they float to the ground, and they employ a range of brush strokes and colours to represent the leaves at different times of the year.

When the leaves of the shrub are green they are gathered by the women and ground up using a stone. Then the medicine leaf compound is mixed with water to form a milky solution, which can be used to cure coughs, colds and flu-like symptoms.

Also the medicine leaves can be collected and boiled to extract the resin, which is then mixed together with kangaroo fat. The paste that is created can be stored for six months in bush conditions. This resulting medicine can then be used to heal cuts, wounds, bites, rashes and spread as an insect repellent.

The bush medicine leaves can also be made into a mixture to apply to aching joints or to place on the temples to cure headaches. Like all aspects of traditional Aboriginal culture, knowledge of bush medicine has been passed down from generation to generation over thousands of years, and is still being used today by the people of Utopia.

In painting the Bush Medicine Leaf story, the artist pays homage to the spirit of the medicinal plant. By creating its image the artist encourages the regeneration of the bush medicine plant, so that her people can continue to benefit from its healing powers.


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