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Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark
  • Aboriginal Art - Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark
Aboriginal Art - Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark

Naminapu Maymuru-White, Mangalili Story, 136x47cm Bark

  • Aboriginal Artist - Naminapu Maymuru-White
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Djarrakpi
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 2902R
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H136 W47 D2  (irregular)
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount on reverse
  • Orientation - As displayed

An understanding of this work relies upon a basic outline of the Maŋgalili clan’s ‘outside story’ as follows. It was in the wangarr, ancestral times, when the Guwak (Koel Cuckoo) men, Munuminya and Yikawaŋa, siƫng 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 kingfish 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 night sky. Miliyawuy or Milŋiya 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. In the top half the tracks of the possum and the crabs is visible in that design. They then sent Garanyirrnyirr with a message to Nyapiliŋu 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 Nyapiliŋu came together at Djarrakpi, when they met at the sacred possum tree Guwak had already travelled extensively with Garanyirryirr his messenger, and named sacred places for the Maŋgalili. Nyapiliŋu 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 the 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 Nyapiliŋu'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. These stories are referred to within this pattern of the water known as Muŋurru which laps against the land at Cape Shield.

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.

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


Naminapu’s major interest is her art. She is an extremely versatile artist with skills in the areas of painting, carving, screen-printing, weaving, lino-cuts and batik work. As a child she used to sit for hours patiently watching her father paint. At about the age of 12, she began to learn herself, and was fortunate in being taught by her father’s brother, Narritjin Maymuru, as well as by her own father, Nånyin Maymuru. Both men were extremely able and well-known artists, whose works hang in many Australian and overseas museums. As one of the first Yolŋu women to be taught to paint miny’tji (sacred creation clan designs) she was part of the historic adaptations by the elders of the Yolŋu in the last forty years which included the revelation of previously restricted designs in pursuit of justice in the Land Rights struggle (for example The Bark Petition and The Yirrkala Church Panels).

Naminapu Maymuru was born a member of the Mangalili clan, at the Yirrkala mission station in Northeast Arnhem Land in Northern Australia in 1952. After attending the mission school, she worked for some time in the store and craft shop and also helped out in the local bank. When the Homeland Centre of Gurka’wuy was established in 1973, Naminapu went to live there with her husband and young family of three children. These were the early days of the Homeland Movement, which included the establishment by Narritjin of the Mangalili homeland of Djarrakpi (extensively documented by Ian Dunlop of Film Australia in the twenty two films of the Yirrkala Film Project). During the years she spent there, Naminapu worked as a teacher trainee and later, on her return to Yirrkala, completed her teacher training. When she later married Leon White, a teacher in the Northern Territory, Naminapu went to live for several years in Melbourne and Darwin.

She has travelled within Australia quite extensively as well as to Japan. In 1985, Naminapu returned with her husband and family to live in Yirrkala, now no longer a mission station but a locally governed Aboriginal community. Following her return, she taught art to the children at the local school and then began working at the Craft Shop attached to the Buku-Larrnggay Arts Centre. In 1990, she was appointed Curator of the recently established Art Museum a ached to this Centre, a position that she held until 1996.

Naminapu’s works were exhibited very successfully with those of Bandak Marika, another Yirrkala woman artist, at a ‘dual’ exhibition held in Warnambool and Sydney, in 1990. Her works are also frequently included in combined exhibitions in Australia and overseas and she is now herself represented in most major institutional collections in the country. In August 1996 at the 13th Telstra National Aboriginal and Islander Art Awards her limited edition linoprint triptych “Nyapilingu” was chosen as the ‘Best Work on Paper’. In 1998 she was selected as the National Indigenous Heritage Art Award Joint Runner-up Normandy Art Award (for her bark “Maŋgalili”) One of her memorial poles with the Milŋiyawuy or milky way design won the Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D award at the 2005 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.

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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