World of Dreamings
Traditional and modern art of Australia

An exhibition held at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg | 2 February - 9 April 2000

English | Selected works | Pусский | 0тобранные работы



Partners and sponsors


  • Dr Brian Kennedy, Director, National Gallery of Australia
Chapter 1
  • An introduction to Aboriginal art by Susan Jenkins and Carly Lane
Chapter 2A | B
  • The Aboriginal Memorial We have survived, by Djon Mundine
  • The Aboriginal Memorial 1987-88 A description
Chapter 3
  • John Mawurndjul The resonating land by Luke Taylor
Chapter 4
  • All the world The paintings of Nym Bandak by Kim Barber
Chapter 5
  • 'Who's that bugger who paints like me?' Rover Thomas by Wally Caruana
Chapter 6
  • The enigma of Emily Kngwarray by Jenny Green
Chapter 7
  • High art and religious intensity. A brief history of Wik sculpture by Peter Sutton
Chapter 8
  • Laced flour and tin boxes The art of Fiona Foley by Avril Quaill
Chapter 9
  • The memory theatre of Tracey Moffat by Gael Newton

Artists' biographies



Further reading on Aboriginal art

Authors' biographies



The Aboriginal Memorial 1987-88: A description

This river, on the bank, you see dupun [hollow log coffins]¼ an initiated man can read [them], just like a book. Our ancestors gave us this Law and today it's still living, like this river - strong. David Gulpilil, 1988.

The installation of The Aboriginal Memorial is laid out as a map of Central Arnhem Land. It comprises the work of 43 artists belonging to nine clans or groups of ancestrally related people. The painted hollow log coffins by each clan are grouped together on either side of the path which runs through the installation. The path represents the Glyde River which flows into the Arafura Sea on the north coast of Australia. As you move through the Memorial you will witness the imagery of the changing environments, from the coast and the land of the saltwater people, to the country of the freshwater people.

We Yolngu [Aboriginal people of Central and Eastern Arnhem Land] belong to different barpurru [clan groups] and each barpurru paints things differently; it depends if you come from the gulunbuy [mangroves] or diltjipuy [forests] or rangipuy [beach]. It's important to know the difference and we need to teach the young people to paint in this way because they don't know. I teach them by painting a picture so they learn to see the difference. George Malibirr, 1989.

The following is a brief description of some the themes relating to the images painted on the dupun, followed by a list of artists in each clan, starting with those on the eastern side of the river, moving from north to south, followed by the clans on the western side, moving in the same direction.

 Eastern side

Malarra and Wolkpuy-Murrungun people

Two spirit sisters travelled by canoe among the Crocodile Islands where they left marks as features in the landscape. As they travelled they saw various sea creatures including sea snakes, moon fish, sea urchins and Warrukuy, the Barracuda Fish. As the barracuda catches small fish and carries them off, so death catches and removes the souls of the living from the world.

In the Land of the dead, Burralku, spirits keep Barnumbirr the Morning Star in a dilly bag throughout the day. To the accompaniment of songs, 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, the Star flies up and as the sun rises the old woman pulls on the string and brings Barnumbirr back to Burralku. When a person dies, Barnumbirr sends down a feathered string to catch the person's spirit taking it back to his or her spiritual home. At daybreak all the spirits of the deceased take the form of bats, butterflies, and praying mantis.

The artists depict 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.


Jimmy Mamalunhawuy 1934-1992

Billy Black Durrgumba active 1980s

Terry Mangapal born 1967

Agnes Marrawurr 1953-1996

Jack Mirritji 2 1966-1991

Roy Riwa 1929-1995

William Watirri born 1946


Gupapuyngu people

Transparent, newborn catfish are a ready target for cormorants diving for food. The birds carry away the fish from the pool of life - a metaphor for death. The distinctive herringbone pattern on the hollow logs represents the skeleton of the catfish. These symbols of new life and death appear simultaneously.

Wild honey, commonly known across Arnhem Land as 'sugarbag', is not only a delicacy but has ritual and spiritual significance. A spirit, in the form of a man called Murayana wears the diamond honey design on his chest and thighs. Dancers in ceremonies wear these body paintings.

Jimmy Wululu born 1936

Tony Djikululu 1938-1992


Galpu, Liyagalawumirr, Wagilag and Wudumin people

The Milky Way Story: Wak the Crow Man and Marrngu the Glider Possum completed the first Hollow Log ceremony. It was for the Possum's wives, the Native Cat Women, who were killed in a domestic dispute by their husband's tribesmen. Their spirits became fish who were caught in a nearby fish trap and eaten. Wak the Crow Man gathered the bones of the women (his sisters) and placed them in the hollow log. He carried the log up into the sky, and as he went the bones spilled out, making the stars of the Milky Way.

The Wagilag Sisters Story: Two Sisters - the older of whom has a child, the younger is pregnant - set up camp at a waterhole called Mirarrmina in Liyagalawumirr country where the younger Sister gives birth. The Sisters are unaware that the waterhole is the sacred home of Wititj, the giant Olive Python, who is angered by their presence. Wititj rises erect in the sky, spitting out water which forms the rain clouds of the first monsoon. The Sisters perform songs and dances to stop the flood of rain, then Wititj descends and swallows the women and children and all their belongings. This ancestral narrative prescribes the laws of marriage, the origins of ceremonies and the coming of the first monsoon.

Paddy Dhathangu 1915-1993

Philip Gudthaykudthay born 1935

Neville of the Liyagalawumirr people 1942-1998

Djardie Ashley Wodalpa born 1950

Tom Djumburpur born 1920

Yambal Durrurrnga born 1936

Peter Minygululu born 1942

Wurraki 2 1934-1997


Ganalbingu people

The Ganalbingu live around the Arafura Swamp which is home to large flocks of gumang or magpie geese. At the end of the monsoon season in April each year, geese in their thousands rest in the shallow waters of the swamp. A plethora of natural species is celebrated here: fish, waterlilies, their leaves and bulbs, edible tubers, water birds, long-necked tortoises, frogs and spiders.

Karritjarr, the Black-Headed Python, stands on its tail and its tongue strikes lightning. Its spit makes the clouds with rain and causes the first rains of the wet season. Karr the Spider, and Lungurrma the North East Wind (represented as a series of chevrons) are indicators that the wet season is beginning.

George Malibirr 1934-1998

Dorothy Djukulul born 1942

Charlie Djurritjini born 1952

Roy Burrnyila born 1955

Jimmy Djelminy born 1946

Djunginy born 1947

Elizabeth Djutarra born 1942

Agnes Marrawurr 1953-1996

Clara Wubukwubuk born 1950

Ganyila 2 Dalparri born 1969

Djardie Ashley Wodalpa born 1950


Western side

Liya-gawumirr, Manyarrngu, and Balmbi people

The stripes on the hollow logs represent tidal marks on tree trunks, recording the rise and fall of successive tides as a symbol for the cycle of the seasons, and of life and death.

The Djan'kawu are among the major creator ancestors who came over the sea from the east, from the place of the rising sun, carrying with them sacred dilly bags and sacred emblems. They created many features of the landscape and gave birth to the first people. The Djan'kawu are represented by a circle with radiating lines, a symbol of the sun and its rays.

Gunmirringu the great hunter died after being poisoned by a snake. His was the first funeral. The killing of a kangaroo symbolises the death of a person. The butchering of the carcass represents the preparation of the human bones in readiness for the second burial or Hollow Log ceremony.

David Daymirringu 1927-1999

Tony Dhanyula born 1935

Mick Daypurryun 2 1929-1994

John Dhurrikayu 1 born 1959

Neville Gulaygulay born 1959

Frances Rrikili born 1962


Wulaki people

In the distant past, a spirit cut down a hollow log. The tree fell and water poured out of it. The log swam off like an eel-tailed catfish and cut the ground as it went. Along the way the log heard Burala, the Diver Duck sing out.

Toby Gabalga born 1957


Kuninjku people

The Mardayin or sacred law refers to all things within the realm of the sacred, including objects, events, totemic species and places. It is also the name of a ceremony in which the older men reveal their clan's sacred objects to the younger men. The designs on these hollow logs relate to Mawurndjul's bark paintings. One hollow log depicts two birds kaldurrk, the blue-winged kookaburra, and ngukbak, the spangled drongo (both native birds).

John Mawurndjul born 1952


Marrangu-Wurrkiganydjarr people

These are people of the eucalyptus forest where wild honey is abundant. The honey ancestors, Yarrpany and Mewal, are depicted on many of the hollow logs by Moduk. They are shown collecting honey with stone axes, dilly bags, mops and ladles. The honey ancestors cut the trees and honey flowed into the earth. This is a metaphor for the powers of the ancestral beings entering the ground.

Jimmy Moduk born 1942

Andrew Marrgululu born 1959

Don Gundinga 1941-1989

George Jangawanga born c.1938

Dick Smith Mewirri 1920 - c.1995


Rembarrnga people

The land of the Rembarrnga lies to the south west of Ramingining, towards the Katherine area. It is marked by rocky outcrops and sweeping plains. Wainburranga's menacing imagery is concerned with the epic encounters of the ancestors. Rainbow Serpents are shown swallowing and spitting out other ancestral spirits to create the features of the landscape.

Paddy Fordham Wainburranga born 1941

David Blanasi born c.1930

Joe Patrick Birriwanga 1939 - deceased

Victor Pamkal active 1980s - deceased


Malibirr (Milpurrurru), George, 'Bark painting: A personal view', in W. Caruana (ed.), Windows on the Dreaming: Aboriginal paintings in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra and Sydney: Australian National Gallery and Ellsyd Press, 1989.

'This is my hand', SBS TV, Sydney, 1988. (Film)