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Reproduced courtesy of Dhuwarriny Yunupingu

Birimbira

Date: 1998
Dimensions:
Overall: 1340 × 290 mm
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Dhuwarriny Yunupingu
Classification:Art
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033801
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

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    Description
    This painting portrays a dual representation of the yellow snake Gunundar as it travels in a black storm cloud and sends out rain and lightning. It also features a depiction of the Queenfish and two Terns (the spirit of Guldana) flying beside the cloud and singing out for the snake to bring rain.
    SignificanceThis bark is representative of the people belonging to the Yirritja moiety of the Gumatj clan in the homeland of Biranybirany. It is one of 80 barks painted by the Yolnu people in East Arnhem Land to express their traditional stories, customs and laws.
    HistoryIn 1996 an illegal fishing camp was discovered at Garranali, a sacred Aboriginal area in East Arnhem Land. The 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. It instigated the local Yolnu 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.

    The Yolnu people are intrinsically linked to the land and the saltwater coastline. In 1963 a Swiss mining company began plans to build a mine in their traditional lands. In opposition the Aboriginal community organised a petition that was signed on bark and sent to Parliament. The Yolnu went to court to challenge the proposed development of the mining company and Australian government. Their claims of land ownership were dismissed and the development of the mine continued. This historic event highlighted the issue of Aboriginal land rights to the Australian public.

    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 Yolnu 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

    Web title: Birimbira

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

    Primary title: Birimbira

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