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Reproduced courtesy of Djarrayan Wunungmurra


Date: 1998
Overall: 1380 × 870 mm
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Djarrayan Wunungmurra
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033791
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This bark painting portrays the Baraltja flood plain and the mixing of saltwater with the fresh water at the artist's clan estate at Gangan. The design of yellow and black shapes represent the floating mangrove (motu) leaves in the water. At the centre of the bark are two depictions of Burrut'tji the lightning snake as he spits lightning bolts into the sky to signal the beginning of the wet season.
    SignificanceThis bark is one of a series of 80 that were painted by the Yolnu people in East Arnhem Land to educate outsiders about their traditional stories, land ownership and laws. It is representative of the people belonging to the Yirritja moiety of the Dhalwanu clan in the homeland of Gurrumurru.

    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 flood plain of the Baraltja is significant to the traditional owners of Arnhem Land, who reenact the movement of the water in the river systems through song and dance. The start of the wet season signals the flushing out of the waterways and the regeneration of life. A number of clans of the Yulno share this floodplain and use it at different times of the year. The snake Burrut'tji is associated with the story of the people from the Madarrpa clan. In the time of the clan’s ancestors Burrut'tji made its way underground to the people's homeland. The snake tasted the fresh water in the river and spat lightening bolts into the sky to herald the beginning of the wet season.

    In 1996 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 Yol?u people to produce a series of bark paintings that expressed the rules, philosophies and stories of their region. Their effort known as the Saltwater Project resulted in 80 barks that stressed the importance of Yol?u land ownership, laws and codes of behaviour for those who interacted with the landscape and sacred Indigenous places.

    The Yol?u 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

    Web title: Baraltja

    Primary title: Baraltja

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

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