The award, described by the Australia Council for the Arts as the country’s “most esteemed peer-assessed award for an Indigenous artist”, will be presented at the Indigenous Arts Awards at the Sydney Opera House.
It recognises lifetime achievement at a national and international level.
Koolmatrie, who was born on the Eyre Peninsula and grew up in the Coorong and Riverland, learned how to weave using hand-harvested Murray River sedge grass and rushes in the early 1980s and went on to develop her own distinctive style.
“Yvonne Koolmatrie’s life was changed when she attended a workshop led by the late Ngarrindjeri Elder Aunty Dorothy Kartinyeri on the traditional ‘basic’ stitch weaving of native sedge, which grows throughout the Coorong,” Australia Council Board director Lee-Ann Buckskin said.
“Her determination to ensure Ngarrindjeri weaving did not become a lost art has resulted in her work being elevated to the world stage, including representing Australia at the 1997 Venice Biennale, alongside fellow Indigenous artists Judy Watson and the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye.”
A comprehensive survey of Koolmatrie’s 30-year career, Riverland, was presented at the Art Gallery of South Australia during last year’s Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in Adelaide.
She was also awarded with the Premier’s Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 2015 Ruby Awards, which recognise achievement in South Australia’s arts and culture sector.
Buckskin said Koolmatrie had mentored many young artists and shared the stories of the Riverland and her people, believing that “Ngarrindjeri weaving should be passed down to the next generation to preserve Ngarrindjeri culture”.
Also at tonight’s Indigenous Arts Awards, NSW rapper, composer and producer Nooky (Corey Webster) will receive the $20,000 Dreaming Award, while Victorian artist Vicki Couzens will be presented with the $40,000 Fellowship.