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Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark

Galuma Maymuru, Gunyan, 70x51cm Bark

  • Aboriginal Artist - Galuma Maymuru
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Djarrakpi
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 3145-17
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H70 W51 D1 (irregular)
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount for stability and hanging
  • Orientation - Ready to hang as pictured but OK to hang horizontally also

Galuma produced this work with reference to her own country at Djarrakpi which is at the base of Cape Shield, the northern perimeter of Blue Mud Bay. This Manggalili country is also site of one of the Ancestral ceremonial/burial grounds called the Yingapungapu. TheYingapungapu is a low relief sand sculpture designed to keep any contamination of death at bay as traditionally the body of the deceased was placed within it for initial mortuary rites, to cleanse the bones of dangerous spirits held within the body tissue.

A metaphor for this action of cleansing is utilised by the Manggalili in their sacred paintings by way of depicting Mirriya or Gunyan the sand or ghost crab picking the bones of a fish carcass on the beach. Contemporary Manggalili on the beaches of Djarrakpi put their food scraps in one place when at camp – the secularYingapungapu.

This painting shows the totemic Mirriya which feeds on the Ancestral remains of the parrot fish Yambirrku. The miny’tji or sacred clan design for the sandscapes of Djarrakpi both adorn and surround the crabs. In traditional mortuary ceremony for this clan the last act is to catch and eat Yambirrku and dispose of the bones in the ceremonial sand sculpture for the crabs to pick clean overnight.

This work is clearly part of the genre of works which she produced in 2013 which emphasise large fields of crabs.

It was in the wangarr, ancestral times, when the Guwak (Koel Cuckoo) men, Munuminya and Yikawaŋa, sitting under the shade of the sacred Marawili (a Ganyawu or bush cashew) tree, instructed the ancestral koel cuckoo Guwak to lead the Maŋgalili people to this new place they had established for them at Djarrakpi. Having seen the people settled in their new homeland they announced to the Maŋgalili their farewell, that they, the Guwak men were to travel out to sea, to a place in the sky and that they would become stars which would shine out of the night sky.

So a canoe and paddles were made and their journey began by paddling down the Milŋiyawuy River which flows into the Blue Mud Bay near Djarrakpi. In the bay, at a place of significance, strong winds developed and a wake from the ancestral turtle capsized the canoe - the men drowned. At this place is the site of Yiŋalpiya, the freshwater crocodile’s nesting place. This same place is the spirit source for Maŋgalili people. The Guwak Men, it was said, had attempts made on them to be rescued. A special log Milkamirri or Bandumul, containing mangrove worms offered itself as assistance. Ŋuykal the ancestral king fish is also manifest in this form. Even the rock cod they had caught for their journey offered assistance, as did Dhäla the sea creature. It was to no avail however as the men had destined themselves as offerings, to the night sky where they and subsequent Maŋgalili souls are seen today in the Milky Way. These Maŋgalili souls attain their celestial position by means of possum fur string Burrkun that connects Djarrakpi at the site of the Marawili tree to the night sky. Miliyawuy or Milŋuya as the Milky Way is also looked upon as the nesting place for the ancestral crocodiles Yiŋalpiya. The night bird Guwak became lonely so he set out to find his friend Marrŋu, the possum, to talk to. During the day he found him in several places but Marrŋu would not talk to him because it was daylight. Ever since the Guwak only calls at night as he knows that this is the only time that Marrŋu will answer him. During his travels that day, as he flew along the coast, he saw the kingfish Ŋuykal and feeling hungry called out “Ŋuykal if you will jump out of the water onto the sand I will give you some land.” Ŋuykal did so and was gobbled up by the Guwak. At long last he came to Djarrakpi and in the moonlight, he saw the sacred tree on the cliff. As he was very tired it was with great relief that he landed in the top of the tree and noticed the Gunyaṉ crabs playing in the sand at the foot of the cliff, running from their holes through the parallel lines of foam left by the ebbing tide. As he sat looking about, he heard a noise and realised Marrŋu was inside the hollow tree. He then sent Garanyirrnyirr, the cicada, down the tree with a message to Marrŋu who came up the tree to the Guwak and they spent the night talking about the sacred places of the Maŋgalili. The designs underneath the figurative imagery all relate to Djarrakpi. The tracks of the possum and the crabs are visible in that design. They then sent Garanyirrnyirr with a message to Nyapaliŋu and asked her to come with them into the Maŋgalili country. The possum travelled ahead and left a path for them to follow. Before the Guwak and Nyapaliŋu came together at Djarrakpi, when they met at the sacred possum tree Guwark had already travelled extensively with Garanyirryirr his messenger, and named sacred places for the Maŋgalili. Nyapaliŋu is a somewhat mystical being hovering in the background of the mythology; information about her is very sparingly given and only after many years of contact. She taught the Yolŋu women many things; how to look for wild bulb ‘yoku’ and prepare it for eating, how to make bark string and weave pandanus palm baskets. She came to the mainland from Groote Eylandt, travelling in a giant-sized bark water container with a band of specially trained spirit women known as Wurrathilaku, who eventually split up to become the different language and clan groups of the Yirritja moiety, including the Maŋgalili. A more important part of Nyapaliŋu’s work was naming flora and fauna and making them Yirritja totems, naming sacred places and making maḏayin. The digging stick (wapitja) which she made for stripping bark, is a very important symbol on the bark paintings as with this she made all the Yirritja waterholes. The death of the two Ancestral Hunters, the founders of Djarrakpi for the Maŋgalili clan of Yolŋu, initiated the first rites of mortuary for these people. The body of the deceased is ceremonially placed at the central station of the sand sculpture - Yiŋapuŋapu. This work has reference to this ceremony, the Guwak Ancestors and the role played by the utilisation of the Yiŋapuŋapu at Djarrakpi. Placing the body within the confines of the sand sculpture keeps the contamination of death at bay. Furthering this concept has a notion of cleansing whereas over time with the agents of nature the soft tissues of the body returns to the mother (earth), the bones are laid bare and clean for the final rites of passage back to the Maŋgalili reservoir of souls. The gunyan (sand crabs) play a role in this stage. Djarrakpi is located at the end of a remote cape on the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Here there are several extremely significant landmarks for the Maŋgalili. On top of a sandy rise, above the sandunes is said to be the ‘dangerous’ site of the Guwak’s Yiŋapuŋapu at Djarrakpi. The work includes reference to the maternal Thunderhead cloud Waŋupini. This is shown in its feminine shape as the anvil shaped Wet Season cumulo-nimbus. There is a metaphor for the soul’s journey from life to death to rest to rebirth. The saltwater flows to the horizon where it is taken up as water vapour by the feminine thunderhead cloud which carries it as the pregnant maternal shape to the escarpment where it gives birth through rain.

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


Galuma is the surviving daughter of the great Narritjin.

Galuma was one of the first Yol\u women to be instructed to paint (by her father) the sacred clan designs that were previously the domain of high ranking men. In preparation for her first solo exhibition of her art she rang through to Buku-Larr\gay the following statement:

This is what I really learnt from my father.

First when I was still in school at Yirrkala he used to let me sit next to him, me and my brothers and he used to show us all the paintings from Wayawu and Djarrakpi. And he'd say this is our paintings and I'm telling you this about the paintings for in the future when I'm passed away you can use them.

Then I forgot all this when I was in school - then I stopped but I was still thinking the way he was teaching us. Then one day I decided to start on a bark by helping him at Yirrkala. Every afternoon after work I used to sit with him and paint little barks - mostly from Djarrakpi but a little from the freshwater country at Wayawu but not Mil\aywuy.

Then I was keep on doing it over and over on cardboard until my hand it gets better and better and I put it in my mind, then it was working and I kept on doing it.

I went to Djarrakpi with my family to live with my father and my mother and brothers. My brothers passed away and we had to go back to Yirrkala. I left my father and mother there when I went to live at Båniyala. My husbands family were living there. I was teaching at the Båniyala school still doing a little bit of painting but mainly schooling. When my father and family died I stopped painting - just doing school work.

Once I moved to Dhuruputjpi in 1982/3 I started to paint again because no one else was doing it and I was thinking about the way my father was talking and how did he handle all this. How did my father do all this - travel and paint - how to handle this painting so I kept on thinking. I'm not really prouding myself but I want to do this painting as my father did it and to keep it in my mind. But I really want this painting to keep going. My gurru\ (Djambawa Marawili) he is looking after it as his Måri (mothers mothers side) and others are looking after it also. I have to teach my kids in case some one might steal the designs. So my kids can know what their mother's paintings is.

Collections include Sydney Opera House, Sydney, National Museum of Australia, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Harland Collection, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Berndt Museum of Anthropology - University of WA, The Kelton Foundation (USA), JW Klunge Collection.

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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