• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: IMP0067

Durack, Elizabeth

(1915 – 2000)
  • Born 1 January, 1915
  • Died 31 December, 2000
  • Occupation Artist, Illustrator, Writer


Born in Claremont in 1915, acclaimed Australian painter and illustrator, Elizabeth Durack, achieved both fame and controversy during her lifetime. For most of her life, Durack’s success rested on her extensive body of paintings, drawings, and book illustrations, depicting outback life and Aboriginal settlements in Australia’s remote north-west and which reflected her childhood experience. In recognition of her service to art and literature, Elizabeth Durack was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1966 and the Order of St Michael & St George – Commanders (CMG) in 1982. In 1997 Elizabeth Durack achieved fame of a different kind when she exploded into media prominence upon admitting to entering work into Aboriginal art exhibitions under the name ‘Eddie Burrup’. Despite the controversy Durack continued to paint under the nom de brush ‘Eddie Burrup’ until two weeks before her death on 25 May 2000.


Elizabeth Durack was born on the 6 July 1915, the daughter of one of the few old pastoralist families in the Kimberley region with a reputation for not shooting Aboriginal people in the 19th century. After a childhood in remote Western Australia, Elizabeth was educated at the Loreto Convent in Perth. In the mid 1930s she travelled to Europe where she studied at the Chelsea Polytechnic in London. Throughout her life Elizabeth Durack travelled widely in Australia, Africa, US, the Indian Ocean, Oceania, the Pacific and Asia, her extensive travels always providing inspiration and featuring prominently in her art.

Elizabeth Durack’s early life on cattle stations in the northern Kimberley region of Western Australia unquestionably provided an inspiration for some of her earliest drawings which were published in The Bulletin in 1935. Both Elizabeth and her sister Mary were influenced by both the landscape and their encounters with Aboriginal people on station properties, something that is reflected in their collaborative and individual work. Elizabeth illustrated many books, which were published in conjunction with her sister, Dame Mary Durack.

In 1939, Elizabeth Durack married Francis Clancy and moved to Sydney, but the marriage was short-lived and Elizabeth returned to Western Australia in the mid 1940s.

In the 1950s and 1960s Elizabeth attained recognition for her work featuring the Miriuwong people in the Ord River area. She was one of the first white painters to adopt indigenous painting techniques in her work and began painting pictures on Aboriginal themes long before the Aboriginal art boom of the 1970s. The ‘Eddie Burrup’ controversy in 1997 supposedly stunned Elizabeth who was bewildered by the storm that erupted following her admission. Although it is true that her ‘Eddie Burrup’ confession was made voluntarily, by way of friend and art historian, Robert Smith, it was perhaps a little disingenuous of Elizabeth, given the contretemps surrounding issues of cultural appropriation at the time, to claim surprise at the heated response it received. If, as Smith says, Elizabeth’s decision to confess was made ‘because she feared the situation was getting out of hand’, it is hard to accept her naïve bewilderment about the ensuing controversy. Despite the tempest her confession wrought in the art world and beyond, Durack continued to paint under the nom de brush ‘Eddie Burrup’ until two weeks before her death.

In recognition of her service to art and literature, Elizabeth Durack was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1966 and the Order of St Michael & St George – Commanders (CMG) in 1982. She died at her Perth home, aged 84, after a long battle with cancer on 25 May, 2002. She is survived by her two children, Michael and Perpetua.


Published resources

  • Resource Section
  • Resource
  • Newspaper Article
    • Artist Elizabeth Durack dies after cancer battle, 2000
    • Obituary [Elizabeth Durack], 2000
    • Death of an artist and her alter ego [Elizabeth Durack], Day, Michael, 1995
    • A Critical Evaluation[Elizabeth Durack], Day, Michael, 1995
    • The Paintings of Elizabeth Durack, J.M.B., 1949
  • Book
    • Seeing through Indonesia, Durack, Elizabeth, 1977
    • The art of Elizabeth Durack, Angus & Robertson, Durack, Elizabeth, 1982
    • Derivations and Directions: The Work of Elizabeth Durack 1930s to 1950s, Catalogue of Exhibition 9 March – 30 April 1995., Gooding, Janda, c1995
    • Notable Australians: the Pictorial Who's Who, Hamlyn, Paul, 1978
    • The International Who's Who of Women: A biographical reference guide to the most eminent and distinguished women in the world today, 1972
    • The Canker at the Core [motion picture], 1981
    • Reflections : profiles of 150 women who helped make Western Australia's history; Project of the Womens Committee for the 150th Anniversary Celebrations of Western Australia, Popham, Daphne; Stokes, K.A.; Lewis, Julie, 1979
    • Contemporary Australians 1995/96, 1995
  • Edited Book
    • Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Australia, Arnold, John and Morris, Deirdre, 1994
    • Who's Who of Australian Women, Lofthouse, Andrea, 1982
    • 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Radi, Heather, 1988
  • Book Section
    • Caught up in the Signs of the Times?: Elizabeth Durack, Pedersen, Annette, 1999
    • Travel hopefully: The Duracks, Browning, Julie, 2002
  • Journal
    • Obituary [Elizabeth Durack], Pederson, Annette, 2000/01
  • Journal Article
  • Conference Paper
    • Elizabeth Durack/ Eddie Burrup: Reconciliation, art fraud and the limits of dominant Australian law, Behrendt, Larissa, 2001
  • Site Exhibition

Archival resources

  • Australian Dictionary of Biography
    • Elizabeth Durack
  • National Library of Australia, Oral History and Folklore Collection
    • Elizabeth Durack interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection [sound recording]
    • Elizabeth Durack interviewed by Helene Charlesworth for the Battye Library collection [sound recording]
  • Australian National University Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts
    • Sketch-books
  • University of Western Australia
    • Westerly Archives
  • Curtin University of Technology, T L Robertson Library (WCU)
    • Seeing through Indonesia / by Elizabeth Durak
  • State Library of Western Australia
    • Papers 1936-1981 [manuscript]
    • Durack family papers, 1886-1991 [manuscript]
  • The University of Melbourne Archives
    • Rio Tinto Zinc Mining and Exploration Department Business Papers and Durack Lithographs
  • Murdoch University
    • [Irene Greenwood Library Resources Trust] : Food for Feminism Dinner, November 7th, 1986

Related entries

  • Related Women
    • Parker, Catherine (Katie) Langloh (1856 - 1940)
  • Friend
    • Kaberry, Phyllis Mary (1910 - 1977)
  • Sister
    • Durack, Mary (1913 - 1994)