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Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark
  • Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark
  • Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark
  • Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark
  • Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark
Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark
Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark
Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark
Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark

Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi, Wakumidi, 125x39cm Bark

  • Aboriginal Artist - Gurrukmuŋu Gurruwiwi
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Ŋaypinya
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 2330/19
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H125 W39 D0.6  
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount
  • Orientation - As displayed

This painting refers to the Gälpu site of Ŋaypiŋa, a coastal area just north of Biranybirany on Caledon Bay. In one story from this place The Ancestral Hunter referred to as Wuluwuma, Binykarra or Banimi speared Namal the Dhuwa clan stingray and brought it to shore at Ŋaypiŋa to eat above the salt watermark, the Wurrkadi side. As both Hunter and Stingray were kin ie of the same moiety and clan the metaphor that deals with forbidden fruit may have some relevance. Eating the stingray, they spit out the cartilage and hard bits - Birrdi. These bits can be represented by the white dots. However in this case the artist specifies a freshwater version of the story and that the roundrels depict Gaŋguri the yam. And the white dots the tracks of Wurrkaḏi. He specified the larger name of the place as Wakumidi. Wurrkaḏi are grubs that live under the ground. They are the larvae of the large horned beetle (a form of scarab) and the actions of the Wurrkaḏi (like witchetty grubs) coming out from the ground to transform into flying insects have been recorded on this work as they are in the ancient songlines of the Gälpu. The roundrels can be seen as the site of contaminated carcass or the waŋa or place for the Wurrkaḏi, the dots - eggs. Each way a place of fertility. In the larger myth there is a story of Yawulŋura an ancestral Yolŋu that lived in the olden days: 'He was a human traditional Dhuwa Yolŋu, he lived at Ŋaypinya a place near Buymarr with his families. He travelled along the coastline making spears, string-bands, arm-bands, hollow-logs for the morning star, dilly-bags and digging sticks etc. Ŋaypinya is a Dhuwa place where the morning Star is sent too from Burralku, it comes up and goes to all the Dhuwa wäŋa (Balaybalay, Djawirrwuy, Wuḏupulay, Yarrapayyu, Garaŋarriyu, Gampukayu) and way down to North-east of Arnhem Land, that’s how the morning star is sent to all the Dhuwa places from Burralku. One evening as he was siƫng around the camp-fire with his families, he told them a story of Burralku of how people or the spirits live in the island, and when we died our spirit goes and join with the group and lives there for a long time, as he was telling the story to them that one day I will go and visit Burralku and see to myself what the place looks like. Then the next day as the dew fogs starts to clear away and the sun began to rise up, he smell the fire that the spirit people had lit, and he said to himself I can smell a fire burning somewhere along way far from this place. So Yawulŋura sat down and talked to his families, that he will go to Burralku. So he pulled his canoe to the edge of the water, he took his second wife and some of his children and started to paddle and paddle and paddle with his wife and children. So they started their journey to Burralku, it was a long way to go. Yawulŋura paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle, then he saw an island. He thought he might leave one of his wife and children in the island, because it seems a long way to travel with the family, so he left his wife and children on the island. It was still along journey to travel, they traveled and slept half way and started again, as they paddle they try to taste the water but still salty. They paddle and paddle and paddle the water was still salty and kept on paddling Then he had another taste of the water, but still salty and he kept on traveling. Then rest of the island disappeared till they could hardly see. He turned around to see back to where he traveled from. Everything disappeared he could not see not even an island. So as he was traveling he try to have another taste of water,still not fresh. He kept on paddling, paddling and paddling. He try to stretch his arms and legs as the canoe sailed along the water. They were thirsty for water, he stopped and tasted, finally he tasted the freshwater. Finally he told them that they are geƫng closer to Burralku. He stretch again and saw an island and said to himself this must be it the island of Burralkuwuy. Yawulŋura could see the bushfire coming up as they came closer and closer then he smelled another bushfire as Yawulŋura and his families made their way to the beach. The Spirits came running to meet them now, they could smell human people. They started to feel and touch them that they’ve got head and skull. They said to themselves we’ve got visitors in our land. They smell differently to us. As soon as they got out from the canoe the Spirits people surrounded them and started to touch them. They just want to feel them if they are real people or spirit just like them. The Spirits of Burralku were very happy to see them. They are the happiest spirits that ever lived. Yawulŋura sat down, he was a great man he started to sing and dance his own song and the spirits danced while he walked along the camp, seeing so many spirits dancing for the morning star. Many of them were making dilly-bags, painting themselves for buŋgul (dance), geƫng yams, wildberries, making spears, playing didgeridoo. Everywhere he went he can feel the laughter, the play of the didgeridoo, clap-sticks and the sound of the noise that the spirit people make it was coming from everywhere. He went around to see the great morning Star that the spirits have made, so there were lots and lots of exciting things that he saw. They gave him water, yams, fruits, strings, and baskets to take back with him. He slept there for another night, and then talked to the spirits that he wants to go back home. So all the spirits talked to each other and they blew the sound of the didgeridoo to say good-bye to Yawulŋura and the families, they all circled around him and his families. They touched them again as they made their way to the canoe Everyone was sad but afterwards they were happy again, so Yawulŋura went back to his land. He took with him the yam which did not exist in Arnhem land before this. But when he returned his families were long dead. Although he had only been gone for a couple of days time had stood still at Burralku but not in reality. Hundreds of years had passed and his families were all dead and their bones were turned to dust.'

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


Gurrukmuŋu is the son of the important Gälpu clan leader and artist Mithinarri Gurruwiwi and mother Marrimarri Burarrwaŋa. He is the brother to Djul’djul, Watjuku and Manany, all respected artists. He is one of the 'Lost Boys' celebrated in song and film in Arnhem land, as he and his brother survived for several days after being abandoned in the bush. Following this famous incident, he and his brother Miṉdakurri were adopted by Margaret Djuwanydaŋu Yunupiŋu and her husband Dhuṯhuŋ Munuŋurr growing up at Yuḏuyudu on Melville Bay. He also spent significant time with his natural mother's sister Batumbil Burarrwaŋa who was a powerful woman who kept the homeland of Matamata viable after her husband's death in 1996. Her husband John Mandjuwi Gurruwiwi famously painted the patterns of Gälpu clan homeland Ŋaypinya which Gurrukmuŋu went on to depict. In 2015 he commenced painting his own clan images on bark and sculpting ironwood. Gurrukmuŋu is also a maker of raŋga, ceremonial objects that are often made from hardwood and decorated with feathers. These objects are some of the most important for Yolŋu, kept out of sight and only ever seen during important ceremony. The making of raŋga is strictly reserved for those with the appropriate training, therefore this is testimony to his knowledge and status within his community.

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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