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Reproduced courtesy of Djambawa Marawili

Gurtha at Dhakalmayi

Date: 1998
Overall: 2570 × 740 mm
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: 00033779
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This painting depicts three episodes in the story of the Ancestral beings Burrak and Munumina. At the bottom of the painting the two hunters wait to go out to sea in their canoe. While in the centre they hold a harpoon in preparation to spear the Dugong who hides under the sacred rock at Dhakalmayi. On throwing the harpoon the hunters angered the greater powers who ignited the ancestral fires in the saltwater, capsizing the canoe and drowning the hunters.
    SignificanceThis story is representative of 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 Yolnu (people) of East Arnhem Land.
    HistoryThe Yolnu 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 Yolnu people’s way of life and prominent themes in their bark paintings.

    The Saltwater Project began in 1996 after 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 illegal camp was the severed head of a crocodile. This discovery prompted the local Yolnu people to produce a series of bark paintings that expressed the rules, philosophies and stories of their region. The project culminated in the production of 80 barks and stressed the importance of Yolnu land ownership, laws and codes of behaviour for those who interacted with the landscape.

    The Yolnu have been involved in the land rights struggle since the 1960s. They currently are recognised as the traditional owners of northeast Arnhem Land under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. This act was passed in the Northern Territory in 1976 and is seen as the benchmark for the recognition of Aboriginal land ownership in Australia. Despite this the issues 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

    Primary title: Gurtha at Dhakalmayi

    Web title: Gurtha at Dhakalmayi

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