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Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark
  • Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark
  • Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark
  • Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark
  • Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark
Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark
Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark
Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark
Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark

Ŋutjapuy Marawili, Lulumu ga Baraltja, 153x49cm Bark

  • Aboriginal Artist - Ŋutjapuy Marawili
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Yilpara
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 3256-17
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H153 W49 D0.6  (irregular)
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount on the reverse
  • Orientation - As displayed

The Madarrpa travelled to live permanently at Bäniyala, clan land north on Blue Mud Bay under the direction of clan leader and father to the artist, Wakuthi. The Madarrpa always had Ancestral connection to this land - no dispute. Gurrundul’s grandfathers are buried under the sacred ground there. The seƫng up of an outstation at Bäniyala was part of the initial push back to the homelands from the intolerable intrusion of large scale mining that had surrounded Yirrkala community (formally mission) from the early seventies. There are hugely significant stories out of this country for the Yirritja, (some of which are shared with the Dhalwaŋu and Maŋgalili clans) that deal with law and ritual. The sacred design of the waters shared by these clans is shared also. Other stories, perhaps no less significant deal with creation or more recently fabled events. Lulumu the cowtail ray of Yilpara legend is at the bottom of this work. Gurrtjpi (cowtail ray) are stingray hunted much on the shallow shores of Blue Mud Bay. It is also a totem for the Madarrpa at Bäniyala as they talk of Gurrtjpi having a path of creation at Bäniyala. A few hundred yards down the beach at Bäniyala, a small tidal creek cuts through the dunes to the flat country immediately behind. This small creek named Mäwaŋga was used by Gurrtjpi to track back into the bush. Here he bit into the ground forming several small billabongs, a source of water for Yolŋu living there. His path continued along the direction that is now the Bäniyala airstrip to flat sandy country before heading out to the point Lulumu to become a white rock surrounded by the slow tides. During the days of Woŋgu the Djapu warrior, an area in the shape of the stingray was cleared by him and others who came to country to hunt Gurrtjpi mid-way through the dry season. The area is still clear today, his two eye holes in the ground where the current inhabitants pick sand to throw in the direction of the rock at Lulumu for good luck and plentiful fishing. In the middle panel is Bäru saltwater crocodile burned by the fires of Yathikpa the saltwater estate adjacent to the mangrove creek of Baraltja.

Baraltja is the residence of Burrut’tji (also known as Mundukul) the lightning serpent. It is an area of flood plains that drain into northern Blue Mud Bay. It is on country belonging to the Maḏarrpa and denotes an area of special qualities pertaining to fertility and the mixing of waters. From Maḏarrpa (and Dhalwaŋu clan) land freshwater spreads onto the Baraltja flood plains with the onset of the Wet. A tidal creek into the Bay flows with the freshwater flushing the brackish mix into the sea over an ever shifting sandbar (the snake manifest). The deep hole that he lives in is Lorr. The lightning snake, Burrut’tji sits in the mouth of a mangrove creek known as Baraltja. He is sometimes manifest as a sandbar here. As he tastes the flushed monsoonal rainwater he stands on his tail and spits lightning to the sky, communicating with other ancestral Yirritja moiety lightning snakes to the South and North. Although in the Dry Season there is no physical connection through water between these two rivers - in the Wet the inundation allows the possibility of water flowing from Gangan to emerge at Baraltja. This area is sung and painted by both clans because of the spiritual connection echoed by the physical reality. The same can be said for the other who faces towards the south towards another Maḏarrpa area called Guminiyawiny, Numbulwar way, producing storm fronts and boomerang-shaped jet streams with its message. These events are sung with the aid of Napunda the boomerang-shaped click sticks that are represented by the same shapes of the jet-steams that feather the storms front. Songs associated with Baraltja are normally intoned at the completion of men's ceremony for the Maḏarrpa and associate clans. So as a harpoon travels or does lightning the estates are connected spiritually in a multi directional way - both to and from, a cyclic phenomenon which is chronicled in the sacred songs that narrate these Ancestral actions over land, through the sea and ether. It is worth noting that Yolŋu ‘science’ portrays this energy burst as coming up from the land which is now recognised by Western science as the precursor to downward lightning ‘strikes’. The different estates mentioned above are encapsulated in the sacred clan signature underlying the figures.

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


Details currently unavailable

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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