Creation story drives artist

23 Apr 2024

Raised by a Balnggarrawarra father and a mother from the Nugal Clan from the Guugu Yimithirr speaking people, Cooktown and Hopevale artist Bradley Michael often accompanied his parents on bush trips to collect materials for their artworks, growing up watching them both paint.

Now an NRL Cowboys House parent, Bradley is sharing his art with the next generation of Indigenous students, running art and cultural programs for those boarding at the House.

Drawing inspiration from his father's country and the intricate rock art galleries, Bradley's paintings vividly narrate stories of his heritage, and has showcased his creations at the esteemed Laura Dance Festival, reflecting his dedication to preserving and celebrating Indigenous culture through art.

In 2024 his artwork will be showcased on the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys playing jersey and NRL Cowboys House polo, having been commissioned for this year’s Cowboys Indigenous range.

‘Nhinhinhi Gurra Bamawi Guugu’ - how the giant Nhinhinhi fish changed the languages – is a traditional creation story form the Hopevale and Cooktown region, passed down to him and told by his grandfather, Tulo Gordon.

“I’m feeling proud now wearing this, wearing my design on the shirt,” Bradley said.

“Working here at NRL Cowboys House we’ve got kids from a lot of different places and country, and they all speak different languages – that’s why it’s so close to me.

“I think knowing that they know the person who painted the artwork on the side of their bus will be really good for them.

“It’s important for my generation and the ones to follow to know this story and be able to identify the area the story comes from.”

The design carries significant meaning, including values of respecting and learning people’s culture, community, family and values.

The commissioning of Bradley’s artwork for this year’s Cowboys Indigenous range follows a strong tradition of using designs from across North Queensland and will form an important part of the club’s identity through 2024.

The Cowboys NRL Indigenous Round playing jersey, Deadly Choices training tee, 2024 NRL Cowboys House polo shirt and a Toyota-donated House school bus will all carry the design showing a unified connection to recognising and honouring the contribution of Indigenous people to the community and rugby league across North Queensland.

The Cowboys 2024 Indigenous jersey is available at the Cowboys Team Shop, in store or online at, and will be worn on-field at Queensland Country Bank Stadium during NRL Indigenous Round vs Tigers (May 24).


All the Aboriginal people, a long time ago, used to share a single language.

At one point, they decided to call each other together for a big dance. It was south of Hopevale, at Mugayan. That was the place. They called all the people together from the east, from the west, from the north and from the south. They formed a big mob all gathered together to have their dance.

The people used to go out hunting of a daytime. Some would spear game for meat. Others went for bush tucker, or to dig yams. They would take honey back to the camp. They would sit down to cook the meat and yams. They would have a big feed: sit and eat and eat and eat.

When their bellies were full, they would get up and start the dance. The next night, and the next night, they would dance and dance. Night after night they danced.

They didn’t know – they were unaware as they danced – that a huge giant groper – a nhinhinhi or marrboarrgo – had come up from the ocean, out of the east. It came along underground towards the lagoon where all those tribes were having their dance. When it got there, it opened its gigantic mouth, rose up out of the water and swallowed the whole jolly lot of them.

Then that giant fish turned around and headed east again, travelling underground. It went back into the ocean. For two months that groper stayed out east in the sea, with all the people inside of him. Then he came back again from the east, the same way, travelling underground. He got to the lagoon, opened his mouth and vomited all the people out again.

The people jumped out onto the ground. But they found that they were all speaking different languages. One person would talk one way, the next person another way and the next would talk still another way. One person couldn’t understand another’s language, because each spoke a different way.

Just like people nowadays. We speak different kinds of languages right up until today.
Now, this was at the place Ngurrayin, a big lagoon. It’s also called Mugayan, part of the Nugal clan area. That’s what the old people used to call it. (People call it Barrow’s Lagoon in English.)

The old people say that seawater comes underground from the ocean and holds up the water level in the lagoon. Even in the dry season, it never dries up. It just stays the way it is.