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Reproduced courtesy of Marrirra Marawili

Gurrtjpi at Lulumu II

Date: 1998
Overall: 1820 × 890 mm
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Marrirra Marawili
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033805
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This painting portrays the stingray Gurrtjpi with two turtles. It is associated with the formation of Mawanga, a tidal creek at Baniyala. During the time of the ancestors Gurrtjpi bit into the ground and created freshwater billabongs for the Yolnu before he swam out to sea and became a white rock at Lulumu. At the top of this painting the rock is shown being washed by the saltwater tides of the Yirritja waters.
    SignificanceThis bark is representative of the people belonging to the Yirritja moiety of the Madarrpa clan in the homeland of Baniyala. It is one of 80 barks painted by the traditional Yolnu owners of East Arnhem Land during the 1990s to affirm their land ownership, laws and stories.
    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 in 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 feature prominently in their bark paintings.

    In the time of the ancestors it was desirable for people and animals to metamorphose into sacred rocks, that would be revered by their descendants and last for eternity. Sometimes these ancestral beings were turned into sacred rocks when they choose or the act of a wrong doing or a life threatening event might act as a catalyst for the change.

    The Saltwater Project was instigated 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 allowed the Indigenous community to educate others about the social history, geography and personal stories of their traditional homeland. It also stressed the importance of Yolnu land ownership, laws and codes of behaviour for those who interacted with the landscape and sacred Indigenous places.

    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 in 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

    Primary title: Gurrtjpi at Lulumu II

    Web title: Gurrtjpi at Lulumu II

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

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