Winner of Kestin Illustrator Award announced

Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr and family

From left: Julie Garrawurra and Ramsay, Birrkinbirrkin Bidingal (Johnny’s grandmother), Anna Ramatha (Johnny’s sister), Helen Garrawurra (Johnny’s wife), Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr and his mum, Lucy. Photo credit: Trevor van Weeren.

22nd February 2018

Australia’s oldest independent Indigenous publisher, Magabala Books, is thrilled to announce Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr as the winner of its inaugural Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award.

Johnny, 47, is from the Ganalbingi clan in the remote community of Gapuwiyak in the Northern Territory, where he is Chairman of the Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts Centre Aboriginal Corporation. He comes from a family of artists including his uncle, Djardi Ashley (dec.), and his mother, Lucy, who is a distinguished fibre artist. As the recipient of the biennial award, Johnny will receive $10,000, a mentorship and the opportunity to illustrate a children’s story by renowned author and illustrator, Sally Morgan.

Upon receiving the news of his win, Johnny said he felt “really happy” that his artwork will be featured in a book for children. “When I heard I had won the award I felt really proud with my whole family,” he said.

“I like it that kids can learn reading and see my artwork. I hope kids around Australia will like this book. I can’t wait for my nieces and nephews to see it.”

Entries for the award were judged by 2017 Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs, celebrated illustrators Bronwyn Bancroft and Ann James and Magabala Books Publisher, Rachel Bin Salleh. Comments from the judges about Johnny’s work stated that ... “his imagery was powerful, quirky and unique”; “he was connected to the characters” and that “his work was striking and had depth and resonance.”

Applications for the Kestin Illustrator Award were received from all over Australia, with judges very encouraged by the quality and diversity of entries. In a coup for the Northern Territory, two other applicants from the region, Jesse Young and Samantha Fry, were acknowledged with high commendations and awarded $1,000 each.

“There are evidently a lot of Indigenous artists who are interested in learning about illustration. Magabala is very pleased to be able to provide this opportunity, with the generous support of the Kestin Family Foundation,” said Publisher, Rachel Bin Salleh.

Magabala Books’ publishing team will now begin working with Johnny and aim to release Sally Morgan’s picture book featuring his illustrations in 2019.

Over a 30+ year period, Magabala Books has  published more than 250 titles by Indigenous storytellers, authors and illustrators, and built an impressive resume of award-winning titles, including Bruce Pascoe’s best-selling work Dark Emu. The Kestin Award expands Magabala Books’ unparalleled program of professional development opportunities for Indigenous authors and illustrators.

Further reading: Dreamtime artist acclaimed for work on Sally Morgan children’s book - The Australian

For further information and interviews, contact Magabala Books’ Marketing Manager Lisa Burton at or call (08) 9192 1991.