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Reproduced courtesy of Djalu Gurruwiwi

Wirriku Island

Date: 1998
Overall: 2210 × 980 mm
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Djalu Gurruwiwi
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033783
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This painting shows the Saltwater Country off Wirriku, one of the smallest Wessel Islands in East Arnhem Land. It depicts three turtles feeding on Yathiny (floating sea anemones) and surounded by representations of Milika, the moonfish totem of the Dhuwa. The sacred rock Dhangal which was created by the thunder man Bol'nu is shown in the form of two connecting circular shapes and Marrpan, the ancestral turtle entering the sea.
    SignificanceThis bark painting represents the people belonging to the Dhuwa moiety of the Galpu clan in the homeland of Naypinya. It forms part of the Saltwater Project, a series of barks painted by the Yolnu people to express their traditional laws, ownership and stories in East Arnhem Land.
    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 bark paintings.

    The Saltwater Project was initiated 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 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 that stressed the importance of Yol?u land ownership, laws and codes of behaviour for those who interacted with the landscape.

    The Yol?u have been involved in the land rights struggle since the 1960s. They are currently 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

    Web title: Wirriku Island

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

    Primary title: Wirriku Island

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