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Reproduced courtesy of Manman Wirrpanda

Ancestral Turtle Hunt

Date: 1998
Overall: 1800 × 660 mm
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Manman Wirrpanda
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033807
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This painting portrays the ancestral turtle hunt in the saltwater country of Lutumba, which is shared by the Djarrwark and Djapu clans. Along the right hand side of the painting a black outline maps the coastline. At the centre is a portrayal of the turtle hunt with two catfish, a reference to the ancestral sisters of the Djarrwark clan. This is one of 80 barks painted by the Yolnu people in East Arnhem Land for the Saltwater Project.
    SignificanceThis bark painting highlights the kinship and shared Saltwater Country of the Djarrwark and Djapu clans. It is representative of the people belonging to the Dhuwa moiety of the Dhudi-djapu clan in the homeland of Dhuruputjpi.

    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 a prominent part of their bark paintings.

    The Yol?u (Aboriginal people) are connected with each other through a complex system of kinship. This social structure is made up of a number of clans whose members belong to one of two moieties, the Dhuwa or Yirritja. Yol?u clans share ownership and rights of the land and saltwater. This ownership means they are both accountable for protecting and governing the Saltwater Country.

    The Saltwater Project began in 1996 when 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 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 are currently recognised as the traditional owners of northeast Arnhem Land under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, passed in the Northern Territory in 1976 it is seen as the benchmark in the recognition of Aboriginal land ownership in Australia. The Yol?u also instigated a case for native title and sea rights in the Australian court system and used a number of the Saltwater Project bark paintings as evidence. In July 2008 the High Court of Australia made a landmark decision and ruled in favour of the Yol?u people’s appeal. This essentially gave the traditional owners governance of about 80 percent of the Northern Territory coastline.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Ancestral Turtle Hunt.

    Web title: Ancestral Turtle Hunt

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

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