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Reproduced courtesy of Marrirra Marawili


Date: 1998
Overall: 1900 × 620 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: 00033809
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This bark painting portrays the totems and miny'tji (sacred clan design) associated with the saltwater country of Yathikpa. At the bottom of the bark the ancestral crocodile Bäru is depicted moving from the beach to the saltwater and carrying the ancestral fire. Bäru instilled the waters with his powers and the ancestral fire.
    SignificanceThis painting was produced for the Saltwater Project, a series of barks painted by the Yol?u people to educate outsiders about their traditional stories and laws. It represents the people belonging to the Yirritja moiety of the Madarrpa clan in the homeland of Baniyala.

    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 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. It also 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. 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

    Assigned title: Yathikpa [3]

    Primary title: Yathikpa

    Web title: Yathikpa

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

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