Billy Cooley


Written by Mark Smerdon


Billy Cooley is a very quiet spoken and humble man. He lives with his wife Lulu and family on his homeland at Ulaipa, right on the border of South Australia and the Northern Territory. This is the sort of place everyone would want to live in, nestled amongst the Musgrave Ranges. Well, maybe not everyone, but certainly it is a beautiful place to visit. It is very isolated and if you want a Big Mac, for example, you would have to drive for five hours at high speed over some pretty rough roads. Maybe this would appeal to many people after all. 

Billy’s humble manner belies his fame and status in the art world. His snakes are the most amazing creatures that writhe and curl almost before your eyes. They can be found in Australia’s premier art galleries and fetch huge prices. I bought one at the same time as the music sticks because they are just so detailed and beautiful to look at and to hold. The finish in Billy’s work is amazing. These snakes are silky smooth and even the underbelly scales are worked into the wood. When I asked Billy to make the sticks he just asked how many we wanted and when, to which I replied, four pairs and as soon as you like. When I saw him three days later, he just said, “I’ve got those sticks if you want them now”. Once I saw them, I really wanted them! We kept one pair for ourselves, as I could not bear to part with all that beauty right away.  Billy also makes Coolamons, which he calls food baskets. These are really big, like they should be and are completely carved by hand from the local wood around his homeland. Many people make “coolamons” for the tourist trade but you would not be able to carry a handful of wattle seed in most of them. You could carry enough food for your family reunion in the baskets Billy makes! They are super-fine, too, being light and of uniform thickness throughout. If you want to collect art works from Australia, I would certainly put Billy’s work on your list as the value goes up every day!