The Aboriginal Memorial

Introduction | History | Artists & Clans | Arnhem land


The Memorial Poles

Malarra and Wolkpuy-Murrungun people

artists | clan stories


The Malarra and Wolkpuy-Murrungun people have the Morning Star as their major totem. Malarra means devil ray, and these people come from the Crocodile Islands and neighbouring shores of the Arafura Sea. The Wolkpuy-Murrungun are related to the Ngangalala shark and Banumbangurr, the place of the Morning Star, on the Glyde River.

An abundance of local species are depicted on these hollow logs — goannas, yams and rifle fish from up the river, sea urchins, sea snakes, moonfish, barracuda and sawfish from the Arafura Sea. The distinguishing features of the poles in this section are the upper protrusions. The artists have depicted sawfish and barracuda on the hollow logs, and extend the carved prongs at the top to represent the fish's jaws. The hollow log itself takes on the form of the fish and, as these predator fish swallow smaller fish, so is the coffin the container of souls.





Clan stories




Two spirit sisters associated with the Malarra people moved by canoes among the flat Crocodile Islands, from west to east. On various islands they left marks as features in the landscape. Somewhere near Howard Island they met and sang with the Djan'kawu ancestors before continuing on their way.

As they travelled they saw various sea creatures including sea snakes, moon fish, sea urchins and Warrukuy the barracuda fish. As the barracuda catches the small fish and carries them off, so death catches and removes the souls of the living from the world.

The hollow log bone coffin is shaped as a barracuda and is known by the same name, Warrukuy. Murrungun people also sing the songs of the Warrukuy.











Morning Star

On the island of the dead, Burralku, spirits gather every evening to dance, sing, and to make a special pole wound in feathered string. Barnumbirr, the Morning Star, is kept in a special dilly bag throughout the day. To the accompaniment of songs, the dancers kick up dust with their feet, blocking out the sun to bring on the dusk and nightfall.

Once the moon has set, just before dawn, a singer calls for Barnumbirr to travel across the sky. An old woman releases the Star tied to feathered string. The Star flies up as the singer chants the names of all the Dhuwa places that it will visit on its westward journey. Just as the sun rises, the old woman pulls on the string and brings Barnumbirr back to Burralku and into the dilly bag for another day.

When a person dies, the Morning Star sends down feathered string to catch the person's spirit, or Mokuy, taking it back to his or her spiritual home. Symbolically, the Morning Star on the string is the child attached to the mother by the umbilical cord.

At daybreak all the spirits of the deceased take the form of bats, butterflies, and preying mantis. It is said that these spirits inhabit the jungle at Barnambarrdji and also roam the lands of the Murrungun clan.