Russell “Wossy” Davey ✿ Carving stories, protecting Country

7 June 2024

Russell Davey with a local boab tree

Russell “Wossy” Davey talks about the many uses of the boab nut and how it helps him tell the stories that keep the connection to Country strong.

Russell “Wossy” Davey is a Bardi man and carver of traditional local materials, including boab and shell. He lives in One Arm Point on the Dampier Peninsula, which is north of Broome. Russell is a member of the Ardi’ol clan group, which covers the areas of Ardyaloon Community, from Baninygoon (West) to Lirramarr (North). The logo is his family’s traditional “riji” design, carved on a pearl shell. “It was handed down to our family over 100 years ago, and is six generations old”.

For Russell, the boab nut has many benefits. “There’s fruit inside to eat, you know. There’s good seeds inside, black seeds, big-sized seeds. You have to get them early before they start to crack.”

The boab is a part of Country. “Sometimes, when I get broken ones, I take the seeds and find a wetland area. I just throw the seats and then they grow naturally.”

Besides eating, the nut provides a wonderful canvas for carving designs. “The boab nut has got about three layers. The outside fourth layer is hairy. To get that off, you have to rub it with a rag, then you have the base colour, sometimes a blackish colour, brown or a reddish colour as well.”

Russell learnt boab carving from his uncle, Robin Hunter, when he was living in Derby on the appropriately named Boab Street. “He’d draw some of the pictures for me and then follow the lines with the pencil. And I’d carve with a hand pocket knife. We did that for a while. I was practicing, practicing…until I sold my first boab nut for $17 when I was 11 years old.”

Robin taught him how to hold the knife while carving and the different techniques he could use for the lines. His designs reflect where he lives. ” A lot of my designs would be based on what’s around me where I grew up. I might do a story about the Kimberley, like the ocean reefs, corals. Birds are my favourites.”

He also tells stories through his carvings, like the fight between Loolool and Marrgaliny. “They live in my mum’s area. They had a waterhole where they kept turtles. Loolool, the wise one, had this mate Marrgaliny who would feed him turtles, but they had to be female. Once he gave him the wrong turtle. Instead of giving him a female he gave him a male turtle. A fight broke out between the two. There was fighting and fighting. Others got involved too. Eventually, all the men went into the water to clean themselves up and wash their wounds, then they became sharks and stingrays. Loolool became the grey nurse shark, Marrgaliny became the hammer head, and others into stingrays. The animals simply swam off and now they live in the water. One of those stingrays has a long tail. His long tail is the spear. The shark’s fins are boomerangs sticking in the body.”

Russell is quite concerned about developments such as the Burrup Hub gas pipeline.”We’ll talk about running pipelines coming closer to us. We were just talking about it the other day. There are risks to our area. We have Brue Reef that’s seventy miles out. It’s heritage area, right. That place got a dreaming story.”

“Country is everything to not only me but all the indigenous people in this country. We have this connection to the land through our stories. We have to look after them. We have to make sure that these places are protected. If you destroy the place, you destroy the family.”

For Russell, his people’s law is timeless, “Our law doesn’t change, it stays the same. Whereas government law changes with different parliaments.” Respect for the law is a key part of what Russell calls, “gorna liyarn”, a Bardi expression for feeling good about yourself: “spiritually, mentally, physically.” Russell’s boab nut carvings keep not only his people’s stories alive, but also keep alive the connection to Country. We can all feel good about that.

About Russell Davey

Russell is a proud Bardi man, with many connections, but only identifies himself as a Traditional Custodian of the Ardi’ol clan group. He lives in Ardyaloon Community on the Dampier Peninsula. Wossy’s art is inspired by his Bardi culture, creating designs that incorporate Dreamtime stories of his saltwater people, continuing to tell these stories through many art forms, using colours, animals and shapes that depict his natural environment. He also carves pearl shells, boab nuts, and traditional artefacts, whilst advocating that young people are taught the old ways, keeping law, language and culture alive, so the knowledge is not lost forever. Watch video, visit and

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