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Reproduced courtesy of Bakulanay Marawili

Burrut' tji I

Date: 1998
Overall: 840 × 340 mm
Medium: Natural pigments on bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery
Object Copyright: © Bakulanay Marawili
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00033753
Place Manufactured:Northern Territory

User Terms

    This bark painting portrays the lightning snake Burrut'tji and the opening of the Baraltja River in East Arnhem Land. Burrut'tji's story is linked to the people of the Madarrpa clan near Blue Mud Bay. This painting uses two sacred designs known as miny'tji. The ribbon like waves are representative of the saltwater in Blue Mud Bay and the half circular designs depict the river's flood plain. The movement of saltwater in and out of the flood plain is fundamental to the customs, lifestyle and rituals of the Yolnu people in East Arnhem Land.
    SignificanceThis bark represents the people belonging to the Yirritja moiety of the Madarrpa clan in the homeland of Baniyala and demonstrates their connection with the landscape of Blue Mud Bay. It was painted for the Saltwater Project in an effort by the Yolnu people of East Arnhem Land to affirm their stories and land ownership.
    HistoryThe Yolnu people of Arnhem Land inhabit a landscape that was formed by the actions of ancestral beings, who 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 Yolnu people’s way of life and prominent themes in their bark paintings.

    The snake Burrut'tji is associated with the story of the people from the Madarrpa clan. In the time of the clan’s ancestors Burrut'tji made its way underground to the people's homeland. The snake tasted the fresh water in the river and spat lightning bolts into the sky to herald the beginning of the wet season.

    The Saltwater Project was instigated in 1996 when an illegal fishing camp was discovered at Garranali, a sacred Aboriginal site 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. This discovery prompted the 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 Yolnu land ownership, laws and codes of behaviour for those who interacted with the landscape.

    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 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

    Primary title: Burrut' tji I

    Collection title: Saltwater collection

    Web title: Burrut' tji I

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