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Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark
  • Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark
  • Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark
  • Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark
  • Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark
Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark
Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark
Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark
Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark

Wulu Marawili, Garraŋali (Maḏarrpa clan), 117x30cm Bark

  • Aboriginal Artist - Wulu Marawili
  • Community - Yirkala
  • Homeland - Yilpara
  • Aboriginal Art Centre - Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre
  • Catalogue number - 777-21
  • Materials - Earth pigments on Stringybark
  • Size(cm) - H117 W30 D0.6  (Irregular shape)
  • Postage variants - Artwork posted flat and ready to hang with a metal mount for stability
  • Orientation - Ready to hang as displayed though horizontal hanging is also OK

This is a Maḏarrpa clan painting of the sacred area referred to as Garraŋali where the sacred Bäru (crocodile) nest.

The Maḏarrpa people were led by Wakuthi (born c1921) who remained a powerful and influential man although almost blind and known as “Banbay” - 'blind one' until his death in 2005. In the setting of this coastal outstation, the elements of this painting incorporate themes of fire and water and describe the ancestral events in which Bäru, the crocodile, plays a central role.

Bäru was camped at a fire when his wife Dhamiliŋu, went hunting for Mänyduŋ (snails). Bäru was sleeping and his wife was eating the snails, throwing the empty shells on his head. Bäru became wild and threw his wife into the gurtha (fire).

It was by being burned by the fire following this argument, that Bäru is said to have been scarred badly resulting in the characteristic skin of the crocodile. It also accounts for his wallowing in water to soothe his burns and his continuing fear of fire. Bäru, as an important ancestor of the Yirritja moiety, played a role in naming areas of land belonging to various Yirritja clans.

Bäru said, “My tribe will be....”, and proceeded to give names to all the places and people. He also went to Maningrida - they have a story for him there but they have different language and different miny’tji (designs). They call themselves Maḏarrpa people. At Roper there are also people who call themselves Maḏarrpa.

Crocodiles never eat food fresh. They take it to a special place called Ŋulwurr or Garraŋali, and let it rot before eating it there later on. This painting is of that site which doubles as nest.

So Garraŋali is the Maḏarrpa clan’s crocodile nest. The Maḏarrpa call themselves of Bäru. Bäru leaves the beaches of Yathikpa to go up stream to the inland site of Garraŋali. Freshwater wells rise from the black soil plains that sustain an oasis like jungle. King tides will reach this far creating a sacred fertile and brackish mix. This is where Bäru makes its nest. It is these waters at Garraŋali that contain the Maḏarrpa soul.

This powerful and dangerous place is affected by springs of freshwater and tidal surge from the northern coast of Blue Mud Bay - a place where the two waters mix to become a fertile one. Ancestral Fires came through this area imbued with the powers of Bäru the Ancestral Crocodile - power totem for the Maḏarrpa clan. The waters are sacred because as the Maḏarrpa will tell you - they are from this water and upon death and through appropriate ritual they will return to this font of Maḏarrpa ancestral souls.
Garraŋali is protected as a special place of significance for the Maḏarrpa by the intense heat of the lingering Ancestral Fire and the real presence of Bäru protecting its nests.

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


The artist is the eldest son of Barunga Statement artist Marrirra Marawili’s second wife. He resides at Yilpara with his own family and increasingly has been taking on the artistic mantle from his father. This is anticipated to continue following his father's death in 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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