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Reproduced courtesy of Bunbatjiwuy Dhamarrandji

Bul'manydji at Gurala

Date: 1998
Overall: 1800 × 1000 mm
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Bunbatjiwuy Dhamarrandji
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033806
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This painting portrays the ancestral shark Bul'manydji after it was butchered in the saltwater country of Gurala. It is an affirmation of the Djambarrpuynu clan's ownership of this region. The shark has been dismembered with its head and liver still intact. The liver represents the future generations of the Djambarrpuynu clan and the multi-pronged spears refer to the ritual dance associated with the shark's slaying. The artist has used the miny'tji (sacred clan design) to represent the clean saltwater above the shark's fins while below it is has mixed with blood and fat.
    SignificanceThis bark is representative of the people belonging to the Dhuwa moiety of the Djambarrpuynu clan in the homeland of Dhambaliya. It was painted for the Saltwater Project and highlights the traditional Yol?u peoples claim for land rights 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 in 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 feature prominently in their bark paintings.

    The story of Bul'manydji is significant to the clans of north-east Arnhem Land, who reenact the slaying of the shark through ritual song and dance. Dancers carry pronged spears as they perform the Mana (the common term for shark).

    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 Yol?u 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. They 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 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: Bul'manydji at Gurala

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

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