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Reproduced courtesy of Madinydjarr Yunupinu

Gumatj at Yirrinyina

Date: 1998
Overall: 1240 × 595 mm
Medium: Natural earth pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Madinydjarr Yunupinu
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033762
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This bark painting depicts the clan totems of the Gumatj site of Yirrinyina, the Saltwater Country off Nanydjaka (Cape Arnhem). These include the bill fish marlin, the ancestral crocodile Bäru and two manta rays known as Malarra. Above these totems the sacred cloud Wanupinin is forming and two lightning snakes are spitting water to signal the start of the wet season. The diamond pattern on this painting is a classic Gumatj design representing the saltwater and ancestral fire.
    SignificanceThis bark represents an important ancestral story of the Yiirtja clan in the homeland of Biranybirany in East Arnhem Land. It was painted as part of the Saltwater Project by the Yolngu people in an effort to educate outsiders about their stories and sacred sites.
    HistoryThe Yolngu people are intrinsically linked to the land and the saltwater coastline. They inhabit a landscape that was formed by the actions of ancestral beings. In 1996 an illegal fishing camp was discovered at Garranali, a sacred Aboriginal area in East Arnhem Land. It instigated the local Yolngu people to begin painting a series of barks that demonstrated the rules, philosophies and stories of their region. The end result was the production of 80 barks portraying the Saltwater Country of East Arnhem Land.

    In 1963 a Swiss mining company began plans to build a mine on sacred Yolngu lands. In opposition the Aboriginal community organised a petition that was signed on bark and sent to Parliament. The proposed development by the mining company and Australian Government was challenged by the Yolngu in court. However their claims of land ownership were dismissed. This historic event highlighted the issue of Aboriginal land rights in Australia.

    In 1976 the Aboriginal Land Rights Act was passed in the Northern Territory, now seen as the benchmark in the recognition of Aboriginal land rights. The Yolngu were decreed the legal owners of northeast Arnhem Land, however their ownership did not extend into the Saltwater coastline. Only in July 2008 have Indigenous rights and use of the Arnhem Land coast been given precedence over commercial interests and fishing. The issue of Aboriginal land rights, customs and laws continues to be contentious in the Australian legal system and wider community.
    Additional Titles

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

    Web title: Gumatj at Yirrinyina

    Primary title: Gumatj at Yirrinyina

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