Paula Sarkaway Lyons

Portrait of Aboriginal Artist Paula Sarkaway Lyons

Paula was one of seven siblings, six daughters – Mamie, Joy, Mildred, Susan and Angela and one son Darryl. Her parents were both Ngaanyatjarra with her mother born in Wannan and her father in Yanka, north of Blackstone. Her mother’s maiden name was Mitchell.

Paula and her siblings were either born in Kalgoorlie, Wingellina (Irrunytju) or Warburton. They travelled on foot ‘up and down this country’, sourcing their food from the bush along the way. They lived for periods of time in different remote communities including Warburton and Blackstone.

During her childhood her family travelled throughout the Ngaanyatjara and Anangu Pitjantjatjarra, Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands visiting relatives and maintaining cultural obligations. Her her mother, Edith Lyons, (a highly regarded painter) taught Paula Ngaanyatjarra heritage, law and culture. She attended primary and secondary school in Papulankutja (Blackstone) where she learnt to speak English. After completing school she worked at the school as a Teacher’s Aid. 

Although Paula decided not to marry (‘I don’t like it’) and has no children of her own she is Auntie to more than 12 children and raised two girls at different times belonging to extended family members. The girls were placed with her after it was identified they needed a care giver. The first was Chantelle Lyons who came to her at around four years old and now is an adult with a daughter of her own. Paula has been primary carer for Misha/Neesha Mitchell who was given to her as baby and she now attends school and is thriving.

Paula was involved with the Papulangkutja Women’s Centre since its early days, before it became an art centre, and travelled around the various communities with the Coordinator as well as attending events in Alice Springs and beyond. She learned soap making and enjoys painting. She has worked at the local School as a Teacher’s Assistant.

She has also been an active member of Tjanpi Desert Weavers (TDW) making sculptural objects such as baskets and animal figures out of natural fibre local grasses, raffia and wool.

Major Works: Paula was one of 18 Papulankutja women who created the grass Toyota which won first prize in the 2005 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art (NATSIA) Awards and was acquired by the Museum and Art Gallery NT. This was the first time a contemporary fibre art piece took the major prize in the history of this prestigious award. Paula travelled to Darwin for the Awards Ceremony with five other ladies.

More recently she created a female sculptural figure – one of the Seven Sisters of the Tjukurrpa (ancestral creation stories) – for the extraordinary multi-faceted National Museum of Australia (NMA) Songlines exhibition that was on display at the NMA in Canberra from September 2017 to February 2018.

Further Artist Information

Community: Blackstone : WA
Country: Papulankutja (Blackstone)


Kungkarrangkalpa (Seven Sisters) - Painting - Paula Sarkaway Lyons