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Reproduced courtesy of Djambawa Marawili


Date: 1998
Overall (Depth measured April 2015): 2500 × 1210 × 47 mm, 13.3 kg
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Djambawa Marawili
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033825
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This painting represents the home of Burrut'tji the lightning serpent in the Baraltja flood plain. It refers to the flushing of Baraltja into Blue Mud Bay as a result of the wet season in East Arnhem Land. The painting depicts the horizon lined with clouds, the maternal figure of Wanupini and the Getkit (tern) flying in the sky. The artist has used the miny'tji (sacred design) of the Madarrpa to represent the clan's traditional laws and governance in the region.
    SignificanceThis painting represents the people belonging to the Yirritja moiety of the Madarrpa clan in the homeland of Baniyala. It was painted as part of the Saltwater Project by the Yol?u people of East Arnhem Land in an effort to affirm their ownership, laws and stories.

    HistoryThe Yol?u people of Arnhem Land inhabit a landscape that was formed by the actions of ancestral beings, who can take both human and animal form. For instance water now flows where these creatures walked and hills have formed where they died. Ancestral time is not just in the past but also the present and future. In light of this the sacred landscape and stories of East Arnhem Land are central to the Yol?u people’s way of life and prominent themes in their ceremonies and art.

    The annual flushing of the flood plain at Baraltja is significant to the existence of the Yol?u people, who act out the important event through dance and song. The start of the wet season begins the flood of water that washes out the rivers and regenerates life. For the Madarrpa clan the mix of fresh and salt water at Baraltja is closely linked to concepts of fertility and the place where the ancestral crocodile Bäru and the Barramundi breed.

    The Saltwater Project was initiated in 1996 when an illegal fishing camp was discovered at Garranali, a sacred Aboriginal site in East Arnhem Land. This sacred area is home to the ancestral crocodile Bäru and found among the litter of the camp was the severed head of a crocodile. The discovery prompted the local Yol?u to produce a series of bark paintings that expressed their rules, philosophies and stories. It culminated in the production of 80 barks and gave the Indigenous community a chance to educate others about their social history, geography and personal stories. They stressed the importance of Yol?u land ownership, laws and codes of behaviour for outsiders who interacted with the landscape and sacred Indigenous places, bringing into focus the question of Indigenous land rights.

    The Yol?u have been involved in the struggle to gain land rights since the 1960s. They are currently recognised as the traditional owners of northeast Arnhem Land under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, passed in the Northern Territory in 1976 and viewed as the benchmark in the recognition of Aboriginal land ownership in Australia. Despite this the issue of Indigenous land ownership, rights, customs and law continue to be contentious in the Australian legal system and wider community.
    Additional Titles

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

    Web title: Baraltja

    Primary title: Baraltja

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