Select Page

Charlie Brinken Newili Wadey Aboriginal artist

Charlie Brinken (Newili) is an aboriginal artist from Wadeye (Port Keats) who painted in the 1960s and 1970s. He is best know for his bark paintings of churinga-like designs and ceremonial scenes.

If you have a bark painting by this artist I would love to hear from you. If you would like to get your bark painting valued or sell

Biography of Charlie Brinken Newili

Charlie was born around 1910 and spoke Murrinh – Thebin language. Very little is available about this amazing artist. He was the guardian of the Ma-Yawa Wangga ceremony. This ceremony is the main Wadeye ceremony for making boys into men by circumcising them. Charlie Brinken was custodian and singer of this custom.

The songs Charlie sung during circumcision is the same as those sung in the mortuary rites. The reference to death is appropriate because in this context an initiates childhood self dies and is reborn as a man. The expression of grief during this ceremony, particularly from the mothers, is as dramatic and heartfelt.

1n 1935 a catholic mission station established at Wadeye. A visiting anthropologist W. Stanner started a long study on aboriginal beliefs. There is little doubt that Charlie would have been one of the people Stanner collected information from. In the early 1950s, the mission encouraged local artists to paint on bark. Charlie now being in his prime and full of ceremonial knowledge became one of the main regular artists.

Charlie painted sporadically for a period of around 10 years until his death in 1965


Early Port Keats paintings by Charlie Brinken are on oval pieces of bark and reflect the incised designs on churinga. His linework was extremely precise and in many ways similar to an early central desert artist like Kaapa. He often painted churinga designs and surrounded them with more literal imagery.

Design elements relate to those found in western desert paintings. The sets of concentric circles reflect the connections between the coastal peoples to the desert group. Traditional aboriginal oral history also reflects that Brinken’s clan was once from the desert.

These early churinga-like paintings are collectible. Unfortunately compared to early Papunya paintings by artists like Anatjari or Mick Namarari they have far less value. This is despite the similarities in design found on the barks from Port Keats those on board in Papunya. Unlike Papunya barks painted at Port Keats often painted 10 or twenty years earlier did not lead to an art movement. Galleries and collectors often overlook their importance in relation to aboriginal art history.

Charlie Brinken Newili also later painted many literal depictions of the circumcision ceremony. This was a ceremony he was in charge of and would have given him great indigenous status. These barks depict the musicians and dancers along with the important totemic animals and aspects of mythology

Newili is sometimes spelled Newihli

Articles on Port Keats and Wadeye art and information can be very hard to find. There is not a lot of information on the art of early artists like Nym Bunduk, Bobyin Noongah or Charlie Mardigan. This area had very little recorded about the wonderful artists working here in the 1960s. If you know more about any of these artists please contact me. I would love to be able to present a fuller picture of the artist’s life.

Other Port Keats Art and Artists

All images in this article are for educational purposes only.

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which was not specified by the copyright owner.

Charlie Brinken artwork Images

The following images are of the Artwork of Charlie Brinken Newili. It is not a complete list of his works. They do however give a good idea of the style and above all the variety of this Aboriginal Artist.

If this post has been informative please take the time and make the effort to share it on social media. By clicking any of the share buttons below you create a link from your social site to this article. Links are what google uses to calculate what information on the web is useful. By sharing this article you are letting google know you found my article / images of some value. Thanks!