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A Cowboy Tale: Cowboy Loy and the Bush Turkey Dreaming

by Utopia Lane Art November 14, 2018

Cowboy Loy Pwerle talks about the bush turkey in his paintings

Cowboy Loy began painting in the 1980's and his fine dot depictions of the Bush Turkey Story have been exhibited and held in collections nationwide. 

Born in 1947 on MacDonald Downs Station in Central Australia, Cowboy Loy Pwerle grew up mustering sheep and cattle and spent most of his life as a Stockman.

His name, Cowboy, is actually a name he took on in later years, reflecting his good standing in this field and revealing the depths of the passion he felt for this role.

 Cowboy Loy Pwerle  painting at home in Utopia with his wives Carol Kunoth and Elizabeth Loy Kngwarreye

Cowboy is younger brother to elder Lena Pwerle, Louie Pwerle (deceased) and Ray Loy Pwerle, and older brother to Don Onion Pwerle, a traditional weapon maker. The name Loy is a derivative of Louie, the name of his older brother.

His traditional country, Ahalpere, lies on the western side of the Sandover River in the centre of Utopia. He is custodian of sacred sites and stories in this area related to the emu and bush turkey.

Bush Turkey Story

The bush turkey (Ardeotis australis) is called arwengerrp in Cowboy's language. They are scarcely found in Utopia now but were once an abundant and favoured food of the Utopia Aboriginal people. Hunting is still carried out.

Wild turkey crossing highway in Utopia Central Australia

Bush turkeys would normally be found in tall, thick grassy areas; hiding while looking for food. Or, alongside creekbeds at night where they make a nest.

There is an old dry river bed that runs through a community called Mosquito Bore in Utopia, a community on Cowboy's country, where the Bush Turkey Story is associated with.


In Cowboy's paintings lines, patterns, shapes and colours bare symbolic meaning of the Bush Turkey's life.

Aboriginal artist uses ink bottle to paint dots on canvas

Concentric circles in the centre represent the turkey's home by a creek. Strong diagonals are the journey it takes during the day to collect food; normally seeds and small fruits.

Semi circle patterns are symbolic of the tall grassy areas, and dots represent the food.

Each piece is unique and symbols may have multiple meanings.

Small dotted Aboriginal painting by Cowboy Loy, 30cm x 30cm Small dotted Aboriginal painting by Cowboy Loy, 30cm x 30cm

View all paintings by Cowboy Loy Pwerle » 

Turkey Tucker

Small yellow bush tomatoes in hand

A favoured food of both the bush turkey and emu is called akatyerre (the desert raisin or bush tomato). Pictured above.

Hunting these animals therefore meant the possibility of finding this small nutritious fruit as well, and so the akatyerre and bush turkey are connected in song and story by Cowboy's people.



Utopia Lane Art
Utopia Lane Art

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