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Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark

Wukun Wanambi, Bamurruŋu, 124x48cm Bark

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  • Aboriginal Artist - Dhukal Wirrpanda
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Gurka'wuy
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 2882H
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H124 W48 D1
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount for stability
  • Orientation - As displayed

Trial Bay is located between Caledon Bay to the north and above the larger Blue Mud Bay on the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Deep inside Trial Bay the Marrakulu clan claim ownership to land and sea through the actions and events of Ancestor Beings as they travelled into this country imbuing both land and sea. The mark of ownership is sung, danced, and painted in Marrakulu ritual through the stringybark woodlands and stony country, through the freshwaters running into the Gurka’wuy River into Trial Bay. Mixing with the saltwaters through sacred mangroves and froth and bubble and out deeper into the Bay with the outgoing tide, past boulders and rocky islets the power and knowledge associated with Marrakulu Rom (law) washes back to shore. This country is associated with the Wawalak Sisters, sacred goannas, Wuyal the Sugarbag Man, and the original inhabitants of Gurka’wuy since these times, the Djuwany people. The Djuwany were the first people of this country who practiced the ritual according to the Creators on the beaches, who hunted the stony country and waters of both the River and Trial Bay.

This work refers to Bamurruŋu, a sacred and solitary rock in Trial Bay. It is a white dome in the Bay - a round lump of granite its top coloured white by roosting birds, in the painting by the molmulpa or white sea foam associated with turbulent and agitating waters created by particular tide and wind. The fish swim up to Bamurruŋu and referred to as Marparrarr or milk fish, somewhat like a large mullet. According to the artist these were once people of the stone country behind where the Marrakulu have now settled close the mouth of the Gurka’wuy river. They turned to Marparrarr on reaching the shore and following the feathered string to Bamurruŋu. The Beings of Marparrarr were the ‘same’ as the original inhabitants of Gurka’wuy, in this manifestation, populating Marrakulu sea country as land totems do in this area. Yolŋu of this area speak of a hole submerged under the rock, from where bubbles are seen rising to the surface, sometimes bursting forth with a rush. The bubbles are seen as a life force and a direct Ancestral connection for the Marrakulu. The Marparrarr have knowledge of this special phenomenon as do the law men. The artist explained that here was a ‘statue’ for Mali Djuluwa Makaratjpi. When the Marrakulu perform ritual dance for the events depicted in this painting participants move towards a held spear representing the steadfastness of the rock, spliƫng the dancers who then surround Bamurruŋu moving as does the sea to song and rhythm of Yidaki and Bilma. Bamurrungu is seen as part of a set of three rocks that stand in the mouth of Trial Bay submerged either completely or partially within its waters. The waters of Gurka’wuy River flow out through Trial Bay past these rocks conflicting and clashing in a turbulent unity with the incoming tidal waters from the deep ocean. Their names rarely spoken are Dundiwuy, Bamurrungu and Yilpirr. In sacred song, Bamurruŋu, a sacred and monolithic rock in the mouth of Trial Bay lies submerged within its waters surrounded by these fish; Buku-Duŋgulmirri or Wawurritjpal, Sea Mullet. As teh Marrakulu dance they are the schools of fish. When their soul’s progress is momentarily barred by the obstacle of the rock (mortality) they act as these fish do and leave the dimension they know and leap into the air before returning to teh familiar dimension of water. This mirrors the cyclical nature of Yolngu spiritual progress. Bamurruŋu is a spiritual focus for an alliance of clans who share identity connected with the felling of the Stringybark tree. Wuyal the Ancestral Sugarbag Man while in Marrakulu clan country cut the sacred Wanambi (hollowed Stringybark tree) looking for native honey. Its falling path gouged the course for the Gurka’wuy River that has flowed ever since into Trial Bay. The hollow log’s movements in and out with the tides and currents completing the kinship connections of the various waters are the subject of ritual song and dance of this country. The Marrakulu sing these events (with other clans) during ceremony associated with the Wawalak myth. In other clan’s lands these actions were repeated. These groups dance songs of honey flowing like rivers of freshwater from fonts deep in the saltwater under the rock. The rivers belonging to these clans; the Marrakulu, Golumala, Marraŋu, and Wawilak flow (spiritually) towards this rock. This work depicts the water clashing as it plays and mingles with that of the Djapu and Dhapuyŋu clans. This Balamumu oceanic salt water rushing into the bay creates eddies, currents and patterns that delineate the relationship between the Djapu and Marrakulu clans. This relationship is referred to as Märi-Gutharra. The maternal grandmother clan and its granddaughter. These waters are in this relationship as well. This is known as the ‘backbone’. One of the key relationships in a complex kinship system whose reciprocal duties are most powerful. These clans are both Dhuwa and share responsibilities for circumcising and burying each others clan members. A matriarchal analysis of the world that governs the behaviour of both sexes equally.

In many ways, the harvesting and material production to create bark paintings is an art in itself. The bark is stripped from Eucalyptus stringybark. It is generally harvested from the tree during the wet season. Two horizontal slices and a single vertical slice are made into the tree, and the bark is carefully peeled off. The smooth inner bark is kept and placed in a fire. After firing, the bark is flattened and weighted to dry flat. Once dry, the bark becomes a rigid surface and is ready to paint upon.

Collecting Barks in Yirkala

Djawakan Marika, Yilpirr Wanambi, Wukun Wanambi and Nambatj Munu+ïgurr Harvesting stringybark for artists Photo credit: David Wickens

Harvesting barks for artists to paint in Yirkala

Wanapa Munu+ïgurr, Yilpirr Wanambi and Wukun Wanambi harvesting stringybark. Photo credit: David Wickens

Firing a bark ready for artists to paint in Yirkala

Wanapa and Nambatj Munu+ïgurr firing a bark to start the flattening process. Photo credit: David Wickens

Arnhem Land paintings are characterised by the use of fine crosshatched patterns of clan designs that carry ancestral power: the crosshatched patterns, known as rarrk in the west and miny’tji in the east, produce an optical brilliance reflecting the presence of ancestral forces.

These patterns are composed of layers of fine lines, laid onto the surface of the bark using a short-handled brush of human hair, just as they are painted onto the body for ceremony.

Aboriginal Artists, Rerrkiwaŋa Munuŋgurr painting her husbands design Gumatj fire or Gurtha.

Rerrkiwaŋa Munuŋgurr painting her husbands design Gumatj fire or Gurtha. Photo credit: Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre

The artist’s palette consists of red and yellow ochres of varying intensity and hues, from flat to lustrous, as well as charcoal and white clay(pictured above). Pigments that were once mixed with natural binders such as egg yolk have, since the 1960s, been combined with water-soluble wood glues.

Naminapu Maymuru White collecting gapan white clay used for painting.

Naminapu Maymuru White collecting gapan white clay used for painting. Photo credit: Edwina Circuitt


Wukun’s father, Mithili Wanambi, died before he was able to learn from him to any great degree. He began painting in 1997 as a result of the Saltwater project in which he participated. His arm of the Marrakulu clan is responsible for saltwater imagery which had not been painted intensively since his father’s death in 1981. His caretakers, or Djunggayi , principally the late Yanggarriny Wunungmurra (1932-2003), transferred their knowledge of these designs to Wukun so that the title to saltwater could be asserted. Some of these designs were outside even his father’s public painting repertoire. Wukun’s sisters Boliny and Ralwurrandji were active artists for a long time before this but not painting oceanic water of Marrakulu. Ralwurrandji was an employee at Buku- Larrnggay through the 1980’s. Wukun sought education through Dhupuma College and Nhulunbuy High School and mainstream employment as a Sport and Rec Officer, Probation and Parole Officer, and at the local mine. He has five children with his wife Warraynga who is also an artist and is now a grandfather. It was not until 2007 that their younger brother Yalanba began to paint. Wukun’s first bark for this Saltwater project won the 1998 NATSIAA Best Bark award. Wukun has gone on to establish a high profile career. In 2003 NATSIAA awards, a sculptured larrakitj by Wukun was Highly Commended in 3D category Since then he has been included in many prestigious collections. He had his first solo show at Raft Artspace in Darwin in 2004 followed by solo shows at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne in 2005 and 2008. Wukun has been involved heavily in all the major communal projects of this decade including the Sydney Opera House commission, the opening of the National Museum of Australia, the Wukidi ceremony in the Darwin Supreme Court and the films: Lonely Boy Richard, The Pilot’s Funeral and Dhakiyarr versus The King. Wukun is an active community member in recreation and health projects and supports a large family. In 2008 he was commissioned to provide a design for installation on a seven-storey glass façade in the Darwin Waterfront Development. He became a Director of Buku Larrnggay’s media centre, The Mulka Project in 2007. In this role he facilitates media projects such as the Nhama DVD and mentors young Yolngu in accessing training and employment in the media centre. He is often required to travel within Australia and overseas to present films, participate in festivals, academic conferences, collaborations and exhibitions. His work is in The British Museum. He won the 3D prize in NATSIAA in 2010 and 2018.

Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre is the Indigenous community-controlled art centre of Northeast Arnhem Land. Located in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community on the north-eastern tip of the Top End of the Northern Territory, approximately 700km east of Darwin. Our primarily Yolŋu (Aboriginal) staff of around twenty services Yirrkala and the approximately twenty-five homeland centres in the radius of 200km.

In the 1960’s, Narritjin Maymuru set up his own beachfront gallery from which he sold art that now graces many major museums and private collections. He is counted among the art centre’s main inspirations and founders, and his picture hangs in the museum. His vision of Yolŋu-owned business to sell Yolŋu art that started with a shelter on a beach has now grown into a thriving business that exhibits and sells globally.

Buku-Larrŋgay –  “the feeling on your face as it is struck by the first rays of the sun (i.e. facing East) 

Mulka – “a sacred but public ceremony.”

In 1976, the Yolŋu artists established ‘Buku-Larrŋgay Arts’ in the old Mission health centre as an act of self-determination coinciding with the withdrawal of the Methodist Overseas Mission and the Land Rights and Homeland movements.

In 1988, a new museum was built with a Bicentenary grant and this houses a collection of works put together in the 1970s illustrating clan law and also the Message Sticks from 1935 and the Yirrkala Church Panels from 1963.

In 1996, a screen print workshop and extra gallery spaces was added to the space to provide a range of different mediums to explore. In 2007, The Mulka Project was added which houses and displays a collection of tens of thousands of historical images and films as well as creating new digital product. 

Still on the same site but in a greatly expanded premises Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre now consists of two divisions; the Yirrkala Art Centre which represents Yolŋu artists exhibiting and selling contemporary art and The Mulka Project which acts as a digital production studio and archiving centre incorporating the museum.


Text courtesy: Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre

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