This is our story and this is our country

This is no ordinary place. This is my country. They [the people] are really from the country. They didn’t make it, but came from it. Our ancestors — big people, strong people – stuck to it … and then we grew up, and this is our story, and this is our country. (Malangi 1983)1

David Malangi’s world is indeed an extraordinary place – physically, spiritually and psychologically. To become familiar with its many facets, environments and ancestral connections is to come to know his art and to share his vision.

I first met Malangi in 1993. I had moved to Ramingining to be the Arts Administrator at Bula’bula Arts. During those early months I was gradually gaining familiarity with the various clan groups in the area, their associated ancestral narratives or Dreamings and particular clan-based imagery, the key artists and their individual styles. Among the painters working with the arts centre at that time Malangi’s style was like no other. The wide white line, the dense matt black, the distinctive rich red and chocolate brown pigment,2 the generous rärrk3 (cross-hatching) and the bold graphic depictions of iconic ancestral beings all made up the singular and unmistakable style of David Malangi, the bark painter.

My accumulating familiarity with the person, the clan and the sites enabled me to see beyond the figurative depictions of creatures to recognise the work of a master draftsman, a painter who had an expert command of composition and an absolutely distinctive visual language. I also came to know a man of engaging personality and great generosity of spirit.

David Malangi Daymirriŋu4 (1927–1999), one of the renowned painters of Arnhem Land, was a member of the Manharrŋu5 clan of the Dhuwa moiety. As is customary in Yolŋu social laws of the Arnhem Land region, and indeed in many parts of Indigenous Australia, Malangi had inherited rights and responsibilities to particular tracts of land, ancestral sites within them and ceremonies related to them. For the purposes of overview I have grouped these areas into three distinct sections.

Throughout his career Malangi painted aspects of the areas of land which were his responsibility, with periods of emphasis – bodies of work – devoted to one area or another. The key countries and themes depicted in his paintings include the patrilineally inherited Dhuwa moiety lands of Mulaŋa and Ŋurrunyuwa on the eastern bank of the Glyde River on the Arafura Sea; Dhämala and Dhäbila on the western side of the river; and the Yirritja moiety lands of his mother around Yathalamarra billabong further west and about 20km inland from the Arafura coast. These three areas in central Arnhem Landare near the mainland town of Ramingining and the island of Milingimbi just off shore, about 500km east of Darwin.



The coastal area of Ŋurrunyuwa on the eastern side of the Glyde River mouth comprises rocky cliffs of the most magnificent red-purple metallic composition known locally as ratjpa.6 The rocks share the shore with intimate palm fringed beaches until the land, as you look south, gives way to mud flats and mangrove lined tributaries and swamplands. The name Ŋurrunyuwa derives from the base word ŋurru which means the nose; tip; front; peninsula, cape or point.7

The whole area of Manharrŋu country on the eastern bank of the river is called Mulaŋa8 and takes in the smaller components of Ŋurrunyuwa on the coast, Gupulugurrm, a muddy plain, and Rapam, a distant jungle. These areas were named by the ancestor, Gurrmirriŋu.

Ah, Mulaŋa … Or Ŋurrunyuwa, or if too hard for you, Mulaŋa, more easy one, it’s a short one … Mulaŋa … Yeah, yes, my country … big swamp... Like big plains, you know? (Malangi 1990)9
Mulaŋa is the big place, large area. You know like Sydney and then there are like suburbs, small place. (Shirley Daymirriŋu 2004)10

Biographical records indicate that Malangi was born at Mulaŋa in 1927.11 At that time the family was living away from the recently established mission on nearby Milingimbi Island, 12 their alternate base. Malangi’s mother, a woman of the Balmbi clan from the west side of the Glyde, had left her country to live with the husband’s family on Manharrŋu land.13

Those eastern bank lands are now rarely visited by Manharrŋu descendants. During a research trip in August 2002 it took family members three attempts before they were successful in taking me across the river to walk around the ‘other side’, as the eastern bank is commonly called within the family.14 A little sand beach is there, where you can land a dinghy, while higher up on the embankment beneath a stand of trees there is evidence of dinner camps over many years:

Here is Guldirraginy. Here where we landed. From here south is Mulaŋa… This is part of Mulaŋa — Waŋgany yindi land [one big land], small place … other side plain, in trees at Rapam. (Shirley Daymirriŋu 2002)15

The country to the south opens out onto the big Gupulugurrm plain, previously a battle ground for Yolŋu.16 Beyond that is the jungle area known as Rapam17 and far beyond that, breaking the horizon line, a single towering Gulwirri palm.18

The family started to walk me around with the aim of seeing the sites of significance, to give ‘proof’ of Manharrŋu ancestral history and the chief ancestor figure for the Manharrŋu, Gurrmirriŋu.19 The great Hunter Gurrmirriŋu is known as the ‘first man’ by Manharrŋu, a law-giver and a warrior,20 and as such established their present beliefs and actions.21 He wandered these lands harvesting fruit, seeds and berries, and hunting goanna, kangaroo, birds and fish.

He had a good harvest, best harvest. He had the best of what is in the land and what is in the sea. (Richard Birrinbirrin, 2002)22 Rapam, jungle area, that his country, camping out, travelling walking, up and down, hunting. (Shirley Daymirru 2002)23 Gurrmirriŋu was crying, thinking about the country and crying and walking around … He was thinking about his country, like all Yolŋu can come to their country, walk around, have a look at the country, at the land, Yo and thinking about his country, his story. It’s not in the paintings, just in the song cycle. Old man [Malangi] say ‘don’t worry about it in the paintings, but it’s my part of the song’. (May Yamangarra 2002)24

The actions of Gurrmirriŋu involved the key sites in this area — some can be seen, some are hidden, some have been altered due to changes in land forms and sea levels over millennia since the Waŋarru (ancestral time). From Rapam Gurrmirriŋu threw his luŋgu25 (harpoon) to Ŋurrunyuwa. From Ŋurrunyuwa he threw his luŋgu into the sea and then finally to Mooroonga Island. The spirit of Gurrmirriŋu is on Mooroonga, though he is known by another name there.26 The two countries are thereby connected through this ancestor.27

One day while on a hunting trip Gurrmirriŋu was looking northward, for the sea was calm and a mild sea breeze was blowing in. Looking toward the sea as he went, he could see smoke rising in the distance from the off-shore island of Mooroonga. He wondered where that smoke was coming from and he said to himself ‘Yaa, where that fire burning? I’ll go over there and see where it is’. And then, he prepared himself to throw the luŋgu. Then he threw the harpoon but it didn’t go far, it landed in the sea, and where it landed it became a reef that is now called Garaŋala.(Sometimes it is said that the reef is Gurrmirriŋu himself.) The last harpoon he threw it flew straight to Mooroonga and landed on the south side of the island near the sea, on the beach. That is how Gurrmirriŋu from Mulaŋa ended up at Mooroonga Island — bringing räkay [water reed] and other foods with him to Mooroonga.28

After a very good day’s hunting Gurrmirriŋu was carrying home the fruits of his labour. Some stories tell how he was returning home to his wife.29 He sat down by a waterhole in the shade of a white berry tree, to rest and cook some of his catch before returning to camp; but lurking in the tree’s roots was an evil (tree) spirit.

Travelled from sunrise somewhere Wurray [devil devil, ghost],30 from sunrise, from Mirrŋatja way, he tried to camp here. He find the devil himself, Hunter, Great Hunter living here. (Richard Birrinbirrin 2002)31

Dharpa32 (the King Brown Snake) rose from the roots of the white berry tree to bite Gurrmirriŋu, killing him. The death of Gurrmirriŋu, the ‘first man’, gave Manharrŋu people the occasion to perform their first mortuary rites.

Gurrmirriŋu was crying when other Yolŋu was burning grass and he was crying and singing same time. When you see that dying Gurrmirriŋu in paintings, you see Yolŋu with clapsticks and singing. All Yolŋu [Manharrŋu] sing these songs now and crying at same time. At old man’s [Malangi’s] funeral … on the Friday night they were singing that song and everybody there crying. It’s my favourite song, part. (May Yamangarra, 2002)33

The mortuary rite of Gurrmirriŋu is the predominant feature of many of Malangi’s paintings associated with the Mulaŋa area. His depiction of this story on bark was reproduced on the reverse of the first Australian one dollar note — released in 1966 when Australia converted to decimal currency. Subsequently Malangi became known as the ‘dollar note painter’; at times he was called ‘Dollar Dave’.34 Due to the frequency with which he was asked to depict the now widely famous scene, Malangi and his family members — when talking about Mulaŋa country and its ancestral players — would refer to the ‘dollar note’ story, country and man, as often as the Gurrmirriŋu story, country and man.

The Gurrmirriŋu funeral scene or dollar note paintings focus on what I refer to as the ‘whole story’. Depictions of aspects of the story came later with the artist’s increasing confidence in developing compositional possibilities and an interest to push boundaries.

The early barks of the whole story from the early 1960s include a number of key elements that served to constitute a template which, by the late 1960s and into the ensuing decades, became increasingly formulaic. A vertical figure with rärrk painted torso, arms extended and bent at the elbows, and with legs outstretched is the body of the deceased Gurrmirriŋu lying in state while being ceremonially prepared for burial. He is surrounded by song men performing Manharrŋu song cycles to ensure the ancestral spirit’s safe arrival at its final resting place. In turn, the spirit of Gurrmirriŋu will look after the surviving Manharrŋu.35 The song men hold clapsticks and didjeridu to accompany the singing and are shown sitting with their legs tucked underneath their bodies, sometimes expressed by Malangi as half figures with no legs. These ceremonial participants are differentiated from the deceased Gurrmirriŋu by their posture and by their plain black bodies devoid of body paint. The strong white lines used to delineate their figures also detail parts of their anatomy; while the angled lines within the frame of the body I see as indicating the three-dimensional figure. This compartmentalising has references to sand sculpture and mapping and spacial awareness on different scales.36

Surrounding this immediate group of figures, and in any available negative spaces, are the animals of the story. They represent both Gurrmirriŋu’s harvest and the mourning process. The L-shaped motif, the leg of a wallaby (ŋarrku),37 signals Gurrmirriŋu’s catch as well as the mortuary feast. Killing and eating wallaby can refer to the death of a person, and sections of dissected wallaby carcass can be a reference to the exhumation of human bones before reburial.38 The elongated ‘tear drop’ shapes in-filled with dots are also representative of (wallaby) meat.39

The white berry tree, Wurrumbuku,40 is the other key identifying feature of this narrative. In an early unusual depiction of the whole story, Mortuary feast of Gurrmirringu, the Great Ancestral Hunter 1963, one tree is placed towards the centre of the composition� – a structure borne of an early interest (which would persist) of dividing the bark essentially in half vertically to create a formal structure. By 1964 dual berry trees frame the dollar note barks. This formal flanking of the funeral scene became the format consistently used by Malangi when depicting the whole story.

In early barks, a random in-filling of dots in negative spaces, which suggests the presence of the white berries in the landscape, later became an ordered pictorial device. The depiction of berries very closely follows the actual appearance of this fruit – a single branch supporting rows of berries in a parallel alignment.

By the late 1960s then Malangi had formalised and strengthened his depiction of the full Gurrmirriŋu mortuary scene, with features which include the solid central location of the ancestor figure and flanking trees adorned with white berries in ordered rows, often interspersed with the placement of leaves.

Authority to paint the Mulaŋa area of the Hunter Gurrmirriŋu was primarily Malangi’s. His older brother, George Burijŋa-1, had authority over Rapam, the jungle area where Gurrmirriŋu hunted, but I have only found one example of him painting for the public domain. Possibly his major authority was over ceremony.41 Charlie Boyun, the youngest brother and a painter, had a focus of responsibility for Djan’kawu country on the west bank of the river and consequently is less likely to have painted Mulaŋa.42 In fact there weren’t other Manharrŋu painters (for the public domain) for much of Malangi’s painting career, let alone painters depicting this story.43 Malangi was devising original compositions of this subject matter.

A letter written to the American collector Ed Ruhe, by a colleague, enthusiastically describes Malangi’s work from this period.

Dear ED … The painting from the new acquisitions which I can’t get out of my mind is Malangi’s Dreamtime Corroboree. I was suspicious of it at first, thinking wow! This is the painting that will grab all the casual museumgoers, but it is really fairly obvious – I didn't want to get seduced by startling contrasts. How cheap these Aboriginals get using black and white with the same abstract sense as Franz Kline, and even using the texture of the bark like him. But I was wrong: it is beautiful painting. The whole painting comes out of that energetic figure in the lower right, his kick propelling the hatching all around the border of the painting. Like electromagnetic waves, framing the abstract plants in the centre of everything. I love the way these men seem incapable of sentimentality, that horribly drivel-ly humanistic in western painting … I am also attracted by Narritjin's the story of Djirrt. The values here are quite the opposite of Malangi's: delicacy against Malangi’s blatant power. Don44

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, while being asked repeatedly to depict the whole dollar note story, Malangi began to develop also what I call ‘aspect’ paintings, focusing on elements of the story in the absence of the central narrative elements – like vignettes, scenes in a play or details of the bigger picture. He began to produce paintings of the white berry tree with surrounding animals (commonly goanna and snake at the base of the image and birds at the top), as if setting the scene before the arrival of the Hunter and his subsequent death and funeral. Having moved from the sides of the bark, a single tree trunk generally occupies the centre of the composition. Black sinuous limbs extend from about half way up the trunk to reach the perimeters of the bark. With the picture plane thus effectively divided, the negative spaces become sub-sections of the whole – glimpses of the whole story.

Malangi was also exploring areas of the composition in paint and the juxtaposition of pigment — rows of white berries against alternating yellow and black leaves or, more abstract still, berries placed and juggled to fill either the entire top half, three quarters or the whole picture plane.

Here was Malangi the painter in full flight. Here was a Yolŋu painter, steeped in tradition, yet pushing the boundaries while still adhering to an ‘allowed’ frame of reference.45 In what are essentially studies of flora Malangi exercised his creative abilities in painting and composition and, in doing so, reached the ‘sublime’.

Malangi was a leader in branching out and painting aspects of a full story in this way. I have come across few other central Arnhem Land painters who have done so within their own (allowed) repertoire with such tenacity. Perhaps too, as the Gurrmirriŋu story was considered public, rom (or garma),46 unlike the prescribed material requiring authority and the observance of restricted levels of information – the ‘clan owned set forms’ – the subject of the mortuary scene, with its less strict observance of regulation, allowed Malangi more freedom.47

To me the white berry tree paintings are amongst the most beautiful and enchanting of Malangi’s works. The paintings have a ‘singing’ quality, akin to the shimmer, known as bir’yun48 – particularly of rärrk – in paintings by fellow Yolŋu artists aspiring to attain a closeness to and expression of a spiritual source.49 The compositions are exceptional, captivating and complex. One can withdraw within the shapes and the textures and sense the application of paint. In these paintings I believe Malangi crosses the boundaries of Yolŋu and Balanda art as a true draftsman in the company of painters everywhere.

The final key theme as ‘aspect’ of the bigger picture appeared in Malangi’s senior painting years when he began producing the luku or foot paintings.

On smallish (tuck underarm size) vertical barks a field of red-brown ochre provides the base for a vertical depiction of a foot – sometimes two feet. The dense black in-filled foot has a solid white outline clearly articulating its component parts – toes, toenails and joints. The view is of the sole of the foot, or a footprint, as if looking at the foot from the subterranean depths of the ancestral domain.

The theme of the foot featured prominently for some time as the latest in a body of work designed to extend and explore established repertoires. Every couple of days Malangi would walk into Bula’bula Arts with one or two foot barks under his arm. This time coincided with the visit of Philippe Peltier, curator of the Musée national des Arts d’Afrique et d’Oceanie, Paris, and a foot bark was secured for their collection which was subsequently included in the Galerie des 5 continents exhibition and catalogue in 1995.50

The foot is the foot of Gurrmirriŋu. The word luku, meaning foot, footprints, tracks or traces, or guides, by extension refers to the ancestors who led the way for the following generations.51 Luku also means the root of a tree; 52 the idea of being implanted below the surface of the earth connects the living Yolŋu to the subterranean ancestral domain. Thus Gurrmirriŋu’s foot denotes the ancestral source for this country on the eastern bank of the Glyde River.53

On the day the family and I succeeded in getting to the ‘other side’, after moving south most of the group returned to the beach landing while Birrinbirrin, David Rumbarumba54and I continued north to Ŋurrunyuwa, to the coast, to complete the walking around and to search for ‘proof’ of Gurrmirriŋu’s presence.55 It was here that Gurrmirriŋu left large footprints, like imprints or depressions in the red rock. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to locate the foot-imprinted rock.

These foot, Ŋurrunyuwa, footprints still there and covered by sand, all covered in sand and trees. (Birrinbirrin 2002)56

It had been some ten years since family members visited this site.

Came here when they made Blackout and looked all around this area but couldn’t go south where we landed. (May Yamangarra 2002)57

That visit was in 1991 – when Michael Riley made a film for ABC television’s Blackout series which traced Malangi through his country on both sides of the Glyde. Part of the film was shot on the ‘other side’. Following that experience Malangi began producing foot paintings in earnest, having never before produced such imagery.58 He appeared re-inspired or with a new and sharpened perception.

The act of painting Gurrmirriŋu’s foot was to chronicle a place, an event, a presence. It was also an act of distilling the subject to its purest form. Malangi had dispensed with the whole story, the overall and perhaps more generic description and, in doing so, was himself reaching closer and closer to a higher plane and to the essence of a spiritual and ancestral source. This is how I read these icon paintings made during the last active painting years of Malangi’s life.


Glyde River country

In the early 1980s Malangi created a new mode of representation of established subject matter in a series of paintings which, in their composition, mapped and bridged his Glyde River country.59 The common feature and central structure of these maps of country is a vertical shaft of matt black pigment sweeping up from the bottom edge to the top of the bark, dividing it into two parallel columns representing, notionally, Manharrŋu country flanking the Glyde River.

The pictorial structure already established in the white berry tree paintings now becomes the river and its tributaries in plan view. This construction enabled Malangi to divide the bark into further sections – details, chapters, episodes – where neither a reliance on chronological order nor literal map making was a consideration. The details, the aspects of the story of this area, of these countries, were positioned according to balance. Sometimes he swapped the geographical position of the river banks, sometimes imagery relating to one or the other river bank was combined.

These paintings encompass iconography of the entire river mouth area. Relating to Gurrmirriŋu and his story on the eastern side of the river are depictions of a sand bank at the river’s mouth where Gurrmirriŋu sat, Garaŋala reef with the luŋgu that he threw, the food of Gurrmirriŋu – girrgili (vine), räkay (water reed), rui (yams) and räga (berries) – little rivers of the area, and bilma (clapsticks).60 Images relating to the Djan’kawu ancestors, significant to the western side, are the waterhole Milminydjarrk, dhona (sacred digging sticks), fish and shellfish.61

The river is all Dhämala. To cross the Glyde to the western bank is to encounter an entirely distinct environment, ancestral history and subsequent visual expression.


Dhämala and Dhäbila — Djan’kawu country

I record the story about Dhämala. It’s Dhämala named by Djan’kawu . Right. They start travel from two Djan’kawu, from sunrise to sunset … when they travel through the places, they name the places … give the ceremony, all the way, coming up. When they come to the other country, they change their language, change language and tribe.� From there another country, change language, another tribe … once do they come to Dhämala … they start to walk around in this plain, and in this plain they named the areas. Then they were gathering all the shells, long-bums [mussels] anything you can name it in the mangroves, what lives in the mangrove tree, in the saltwater, in the mangrove.� Then, after that, the two Djan’kawu been start to cook, organise to cooking.� While they cook, then they start cook all the long-bums, anything round, any long-bums … they start to change the language.� One … she talking Manharrŋu language, another said ‘Hey, you’re talking another language … Let me help you for food, language’, and then they eat, they both talk Manharrŋu language and they called themselves, ‘we are talking Manharrŋu language in this country because we are Manharrŋu and this Dhämala’. They walk around from then, they travel from here right up, halfway. I don’t know what’s the name of the English, the bird? Kingfisher eh?, Kingfish bird, we call it Djirrididi. Then halfway, place called Buwany. So Djan’kawu named that place. Then they travelled all the way right up to Gilimgarri. They named the Gilimgarri, they make waterhole there too, one at Gopani, then they travel. ‘Ooh, look, there’s good place’, place called Dhäbila. From Dhäbila, then they started to wander up looking towards sunset then, then they travel. This is the ending story of, for me, from Djan’kawu. That’s all. (Richard Birrinbirrin 2002)62

Dhämala63 and Dhäbila64 are two tracts of Dhuwa moiety land west of the Glyde River. Dhämala lines the bank of the river south of the mouth before changing to Yirritja land of the neighboring Mildjiŋi clan. The entire area is a patchwork of Yirritja and Dhuwa territories. Dhäbila reaches some 12–16km further west along sandy and muddy stretches to the mangrove lined coastal fringe at the Arafura Sea. Both areas are host to a diverse natural habitat which includes active tributaries and estuaries as the river fans out around its mouth, fresh and brackish waterways, mangroves, shrubs, grasses, salt and freshwater fish and shellfish. Coastal sand dunes and mangroves give way inland to vast muddy plains, punctuated and fringed with a variety of vegetation including paperbark groves and stands of palms.

At times Dhämala and Dhäbila have been blurred into one, or confused with each other by Balanda in their descriptions of paintings. A Dhämala story is sometimes recorded as a Dhäbila story, as it is possible to drive with ease between the two areas in pursuit of the significant sites that link them – their ‘boundaries’ unclear to the untutored eye.65

Over several years I have become familiar with these lands on the western bank through my close association with the family66 and the area’s relative proximity to Ramingining. Repeat visits to the same sites over a number of years while working in the area, and subsequent visits to Arnhem Land enabled my knowledge to build, detail by detail. On my first weekend in the community in 1993, I was invited to join the family hunting at Dhämala and Dhäbila. In 1999 when I journeyed north to attend the old man’s funeral, I again visited Dhämala with family members who travelled to the river’s edge to collect the headstone that had been brought over from Ŋurrunyuwa. Numerous trips made to these lands during the main research trip for this exhibition in August 2002 added to my understanding. The two areas form a broken elongated arm of country related by virtue of its creation by and presence of the Djan’kawu Ancestors.67

The Djan’kawu Sisters link Dhuwa clans across eastern and central Arnhem Land. They came from the Island of Burralku east of the mainland, arriving on the shores of north-east Arnhem Land at Yalaŋbara in Rirratjiŋu clan country. They travelled west with the sun, plunging their digging sticks into the ground and, in doing so, created and named waterholes, places, people, language, birds and animals, making them sacred.68

At Dhämala with the plunge of their digging sticks the Djan’kawu created the sacred Milminydjarrk called Mirrmirrŋurr, a tiny mangrove fringed waterhole around 50 metres from the river’s edge.

It was in this area that the Djan’kawu changed their language to Manharrŋu language and gave the Manharrŋu the colour black. Black is a prominent feature in the paintings of Malangi. The use of black also differentiates the painted design of the hollow log coffins of the Manharrŋu from those of other clans which feature a Djan’kawu design – Djan’kawu related clans to the east paint bands of red, white and yellow on the log, while the Manharrŋu also include black bands.69

These two Djan’kawu were getting all those nonda [long-bum mussel], dhukuray [periwinkle], djuny’tjumu [shellfish]. They was cooking with this tree and began to change their language and start talking this language at Dhämala. (May Yamangarra 2002)70

At Dhämala the Djan’kawu hung their dilly bags in a tree nearby at Giwillirrgilibil to go in search of shellfish.71 The bags contained the sacred law, held by the women. While they were away the bags, with the law inside, were stolen by the men, and from that point the knowledge and law of ceremony was the domain of men.

We shall walk along, Sister, with the aid of the mauwulan, making country; inserting the point of the mauwulan, dragging it …
Our heads are grey; we sway our hips as we walk. Our bodies shadowed by clouds, rising and passing …
Carefully, we leave the sacred basket within the shade …
Let us hang this shining basket upon the tree …
Yes we are walking along … making country …
With hips swaying.
What is that, Sister? Show me? I see a mangrove shell.
Come, pour them in here; put them as sacred, within the mat!
There I saw another of them!
Come, put them into the mouth of the sacred mat.
There is another mangrove shell!
Let us leave them within the peak of the mat, covering them up: they are sacred to us!
Here is another Sister, a black periwinkle. Put it within, sacred to us!
Covered up in the basket, hanging up on the claypan tree …
It shines there quietly, solemnly, beside the water …
We are making that Dreaming tree, for us …72

From Dhämala the Djan’kawu continued their travels and creative acts westward. Plunging their digging sticks into the ground they made and named Buwany (the shooting star site) and the Gilimgarri waterhole on the plain, reaching the coast at Dhäbila. From here they moved with the sun to lands of other clans.

The Dhämala and Dhäbila Djan’kawu paintings represent a distinctive aspect of Malangi’s oeuvre, for with each ‘country’ he devised an entirely new way of representing it. Instead of seeking to tell the ‘whole story’ of the Djan’kawu in one picture plane or depict them in human form (as could be read in the Gurrmirriŋu works), he told their story through traces of their existence, the food they collected, the creatures they made sacred, the sites they created. Painting the Djan’kawu in these ways represented both an expression of the everyday and an exploration of Yolŋu religious knowledge. (plates 33, 34)

Mirrmirrŋurr Milminydjarrk

From the Djan’kawu landscape and lore comes Malangi’s most definitive and sacred design. The Mirrmirrŋurr Milminydjarrk (waterhole) is depicted as a central roundel from which bands radiate vertically, horizontally and diagonally to the edges and corners of the picture plane where smaller roundels, or sometimes squares are placed.

The radiating motif is the signature of the Djan’kawu, the identifier, and with slight variations is painted by artists depicting the story of the Djan‘kawu as related to their clan country. It signals a number of associations including the rays of the sun with which they travelled, the tracing of the journey or tracks between waterholes and sites created by them with the plunge of their digging sticks, and the design of the woven ŋanmarra,73 the conical mat used to give birth to the Dhuwa people, and this is synonymous with the womb and the procreative powers of the women.74

Like other Dhuwa moiety painters of the Djan’kawu narrative, Malangi’s paintings are based on this broad Djan’kawu template but are site specific. Milminydjarrk is central on the bark. Mirrmirrŋurr is the specific name of this actual waterhole, while Milminydjarrk is the generic name given to a freshwater spring.75 Surrounding it at Dhämala, and on the bark, are smaller waterholes connected by a subterranean channel system of linked waterways. The yellow rärrk in the negative spaces represents water run-off across the vast mud plains with the seasonal rains and the ebb and flow of river tides.76 It also lends a visual reference to the cycles of nature and the woven fibres of the birthing mat which brings life.

When looking at reproductions of Malangi’s bark paintings of the Mirrmirrŋurr design, Yolŋu respond immediately with comments such as ‘that’s Malangi’s Dreaming, that’s his design’. What they are expressing it seems to me is that this design above any other is most closely connected to the clan religious law, the madayin.77 That is, this very waterhole and this very design is ‘high totem’ for Malangi, therefore most restricted and most sacred.78 The mesmeric quality of Malangi’s Milminydjarrk barks is also an expression of ancestral power.

Even though the Milminydjarrk site is public in the sense that women, children and visitors can go there, it is nonetheless the key to Malangi’s spiritual identity.79In Yolŋu cosmology the clan waterhole is the spiritual reservoir, where the souls of the unborn reside and where, upon death, the souls return ‘home’. The established design template for expressing Milminydjarrk — the circle with radiating lines in a rectangular frame — bears a direct relationship to the ceremonial aspect of the Manharrŋu in the form of a body design for initiates painted in ceremony and the basis for a sand sculpture used in smoking or cleansing rituals as part of the process of the mortuary rite.

This is a ceremonial design and therefore sacrosanct. The knowledge is transferred from those with clan authority to young painters to use for ceremony as well as for the public domain, but with the requirement that the design remains the same. Early barks by Malangi’s brother Charlie Boyun80 reveal a similar strict adherence to the law of representation.81 Malangi’s paintings of Milminydjarrk in public collections are dated in the late 1960s,82� yet he would continue to paint Milminydjarrk, incorporating it as an aspect in river map paintings throughout the 1980s and 90s.

Djan’kawu icon paintings

Malangi exercised much more freedom with the Djan’kawu subjects other than Milminydjarrk, in what I call ‘icon’ paintings. This repertoire or series is distinctive for the placement of one or two figures vertically and centrally on the bark executed in bold white pigment and rärrk on a dense black ground. Often the figure is ‘anchored’ to the bottom edge of the bark; sometimes it appears to float.

The subjects comprise representations of the Djan’kawu. To find a nonda, a long-bum mussel, in the mud is to find food collected by the Djan’kawu, eaten by them, created by them. More than this, the mussel is the Djan’kawu, an essence of the Djan’kawu, a spirit of the Djan’kawu, the power of these ancestors imbued in the mussel. To paint the nonda (or other Djan’kawu subjects like goanna or sun) is to paint the Djan’kawu in a manifestation other than human form.83 Malangi painted such manifestations of the Djan’kawu through the species they encountered, ate and created on their travels in several series of barks whose subjects include freshwater and mangrove goannas, shellfish, catfish, salt and freshwater fish and bush food. In early paintings a number of species crowd the picture plane and are painted in a very descriptive manner, whereas in later more resolved worksthe imagery is distilled to a bold, single iconic figure on a black ground.

�Among the first barks of the descriptive type is a series Malangi made for Australian Perspecta 1983: a biennial survey of contemporary Australian art, for which Djon Mundine’s encouragement to develop a body of work84 may have been the pivotal moment when Malangi allowed himself to explore his own creativity – and to develop and elevate his work beyond the formal 'by the book' rendition. Some ten years later he was at the height of painting his single ‘icon’ paintings.

Malangi’s execution of these manifestations of the Djan’kawu represent a mid to late career continual experimentation with format. By the time he was painting the minimal figures of the early 1990s he was in his late sixties, a senior custodian of his own land as well as his mother’s. His development as a painter and as a ritual leader were commensurate, and these iconic depictions may be read as a meditation on religious knowledge.

In Yolŋu ceremonial teaching, through a series of ‘age-grading’ rituals, increasingly restricted knowledge is revealed. An integral part of this process is the learning of the connectedness to the ancestral domain through restricted ceremony — song, oratory and painting – both the painting of sacred objects known as raŋga,85 as representations of the Waŋarr or Miligidji86 (ancestral beings and ancestral time) made for restricted rituals and the painting on bodies. These actions effectively allow participants to gradually experience a oneness with the Waŋarr.87

Malangi’s concentration on single subjects transferred to an interest in representing these aspects sculpturally. In the late 1980s and early 90s he produced a body of work where a detail or aspect of the Djan’kawu chronicle is given three-dimensional form. These subjects include particularly a series of sculptures related to Dhämala and Dhäbila – birds and goannas – representations of the everyday creatures related to this country as well as homage to their totemic significance.

Most paintings contain inside and outside elements. For those not conversant with restricted Yolŋu law, Malangi’s barks of single figures on black grounds are very satisfactory and resolved minimal paintings and can be enjoyed as such. The depiction of the creatures in this distilled way also signals a sacred dimension and suggests a realm beyond the everyday. Thus as the nonda is one essence of the Djan’kawu, represented on bark, it also becomes an icon of the Djan’kawu in the spiritual sense. The distilling of the subject suggests an intellectual and spiritual exercise associated with attaining cultural authority and religious knowledge.



Malangi’s accomplished ritual standing became increasingly evident in the Djan’kawu works of the late 1980s and early 90s. At the same time he was producing his masterful Yathalamarra paintings – dedications to his mother’s Yirritja moiety Balmbi clan land – distinctive for their expansive horizontal picture planes and the extensive use of black.

Yathalamarra is a horseshoe shaped billabong surrounded by trees and grasses and inhabited by abundant freshwater life such as waterlilies, darters, lotus birds and catfish. Malangi spent the last thirty years of his life there on a more or less permanent basis.88 As manager, djuŋgayi,89 he was caretaker of the land and its associated ceremonies. From here he continued to paint his Dhuwa moiety Dreamings of the Glyde River while increasingly developing a repertoire of paintings – an entire visual language – to represent the rich ancestral lands of the Balmbi, focusing on Yathalamarra and its surroundings.

In and around the Yathalamarra billabong itself are the key sites Gutitjbimirri, Wulawarri and Djalumbudjapin.90 Nearby is the smaller waterhole and ceremonial site Bilimarr, and to the south and north is country associated with the ancestor, Murayana.91 The social and ancestral history of Yathalamarra is discussed in Margie West’s essay.92 Here then, I simply introduce the exquisite Yathalamarra landscapes in bark.

My familiarisation with this area occurred over a much longer period of time than the example given for Mulaŋa. During my time working with Bula’bula Arts, I would often visit Malangi’s house at Yathalamarra. Most visits took place sitting on the verandah of the house at ‘bottom camp’ near the southern end of the billabong, the area of country known as Gutitjbimirri.93 Occasionally I was able to venture further and see other parts of the billabong.94 On return visits to Ramingining, after leaving the community, I would always visit Malangi at Yathalamarra. This growing familiarity with the family and their country paved the way for experiencing Balmbi land in a much more comprehensive way. During the 2002 research trip, the women and children supervised the expeditions to a number of Balmbi sites.95 This process is like peeling back the layers of an onion, gradually, not hurriedly, gaining a comprehension of the complexity of the ancestral landscape.

Like other bodies of work begun when Malangi was younger, and with less ceremonial authority and painting experience, his early depictions of Yathalamarra of the 1960s adhere to a personal template of sorts that he used to paint the ‘whole’ dollar note story. In a vertical format the central figure (of Gurrmirriŋu) is replaced by a central roundel (waterhole) surrounded by trees and animals related to the site. What followed by the 1980s were barks, still vertical in their axis, but instead of presenting one overall picture plane, the bark was divided into a series of columns into which Malangi placed individual elements of the story. At the Yathalamarra waterhole 1988 includes a central roundel – representing the spiritual reservoir – placed within a horizontal panel. Like the Djan'kawu icon paintings, single aspects of the larger story are placed on a black ground into vertical parallel columns arranged across the vertically oriented bark96 – the ancestral players for Yathalamarra.

The ultimately accomplished works came with Malangi’s orientation of the bark from vertical to horizontal. Within this ‘landscape’ he painted a series of pictures documenting the Yathalamarra waterhole, still using the columnar structure which enabled him to depict an inventory of aspects of the ancestral narrative visually partitioned across the picture plane.

While some of these expansive barks gave a comprehensive chronicle of the billabong, others focused on its particular parts and the ancestral events specific to that site. Yathalamarra Story c.1990 encompasses all of Yathalamarra in the established columnar arrangement and features the central waterhole of the ancestral women, Biyay’u and Bundul. Yathalamarra Story 1989 is another definitive work which focuses on the area of the billabong where these ancestral waterlily women reside. Their pool, placed centrally on the bark is surrounded by girrwul (water weed), with the column of rärrk representing Yirritja Balmbi land. The added presence of Bipimirriny97 the lotus bird and the ancestral women with their digging sticks in representational form, and at the top of the painting, their breasts, places central significance on the creation of the area by the acts of these women who live in the billabong’s southern part.

Looking at such paintings can provide the experience of standing within the panorama of Yathalamarra and surveying features of the landscape from a central viewpoint. In real life to stand on the central peninsula of land where the outstation houses are located is to see the darter tree and the ancestral womens’ pool to your left, the catfish site at the apex of the billabong and the hollow log site to your right. Transferred onto bark Malangi expressed this landscape as a complex chronicle of interconnected sites by arranging the features in adjacent relationships, as if ‘unwrapping’ the landscape. The result is that while all the features are present, their placement is not literal. As a general rule the focal site of the spiritual reservoir within the billabong where the ancestral women reside is placed centrally in the picture (as was the central reservoir for Dhämala, Milminydjarrk, in the Dhuwa barks).

I suggest the significance of the ‘viewpoint’ and thus the central placement of the spiritual reservoir is more than to chronicle the physical arrangement of the land, but is a dedication to the central significance spiritually of the site. Through a map of the scene then, through formal relationships, it is possible to evoke unspoken relationships.

The central roundel, based on a sand sculpture design, references ceremony which is further expressed by the order of pictorial elements, their repetition across the picture plain echoing the rhythmic execution of song cycles, dances and incantations designed to bring the participant closer to a connection with the spiritual domain.

The further distinguishing feature in the Yathalamarra works is the emphatic use of black. More than just Malangi’s predilection for this pigment, its use suggests the extensive waters of Yathalamarra, as did the use of black in the iconic Djan’kawu works, referencing the environment of associated water creatures. In Yolŋu cosmology water has many layered references not least of which is water as the vehicle for the journey of the soul. Again, the waterhole is where the souls of the unborn reside and where the deceased return.

Mortuary ceremonies include song cycles and actions (dances) about water, as the transition from one realm to the next takes place.98 And significant sites were formed by the actions of an ancestor creating a waterhole, a source of survival for the clan, a spiritual source.99

These vast columnar paintings emerged at around the time when Malangi was also strongly producing aspect paintings as part of the Djan’kawu series.100 The precursor to the horizontal barks and the sectioning of the picture plane was surely Malangi’s mural experience – when in 1987 he created a mural in horizontal format depicting the creation story of Yathalamarra.101 The use of individual elements within the Yathalamarra works influenced the Djan’kawu ‘icon’ paintings. One approach fed into the other while each remained distinct.

In the Yathalamarra works, as a senior man, Malangi developed a language authoritative, innovative and unique.


A born painter

The funeral held at Yathalamarra outstation was an acknowledgment that Malangi moved in two worlds – the Yolŋu and the Balanda. A public ceremony held on Saturday 3 July 1999 was attended by many Yolŋu and Balanda – family, friends, curators, academics, dealers and politicians – who all came to pay tribute. The media described the occasion as the equivalent of a ‘state funeral’ which included a guard of honour by Yolŋu members of the armed forces.

I was fortunate to stay on in the small community to witness the events in the week that followed as, nightly, members of Yolŋu clans carried out singing and ceremony to farewell the dearly loved family member. On intermittent evenings there was Christian fellowship also acknowledging the meeting of the Yolŋu tradition with the Balanda.

The headstone was collected from Ŋurrunyuwa and brought across the river in a dinghy to Dhämala to be prepared. The specially chosen metallic rock, when sanded back, revealed ratjpa — the sparkling red-purple ochre used to paint up for ceremony and also used by the artist in his paintings. A plaque set in the rock carries Malangi’s medals of a lifetime of achievement – the one dollar note medal, the Emeritus pin from the Australia Council, and the Doctor of Laws medallion – again the Yolŋu and Balanda worlds coming together.102 More than this though, the placement of the ratjpa rock from Ŋurrunyuwa to rest in Yathalamarra country brought together the spirit of father and mother.103

Howard Morphy has noted that as Yolŋu gain ritual knowledge they are able to attain deeper law, higher law and not only discern their own law but take on the role of djuŋgayi or custodial manager of their mother’s country.104

It seems to me that it was this union, this acceptance into the spiritual realm, into the realm of god that Malangi strived for all his adult life through his art. I see his artistic output as a clear expression of an accumulative lifetime of greater and greater religious knowledge, wisdom, knowing. Every Yolŋu participates in a similar journey to a greater or lesser degree. The young man begins life with innocence and inexperience and enters into a series of lessons, through ceremony, through painting where knowledge and law is revealed. The attainment of a connection to the spiritual realm occurs through teachings in restricted ceremony not least of which is through being painted up and establishing a connectedness with the ancestral domain through this experience.

The Gurrmirriŋu paintings are essentially those of a young man. By his life’s end Malangi was producing ever more profound dedications to his djuŋgayi country. In doing so he was striving to attain a higher state of consciousness, to bring the mundane and spiritual worlds closer together, to connect with god, with the Waŋarr – through painting.

Susan Jenkins

I acknowledge the assistance of Malangi, members of Malangi’s family and Bula’bula Arts in compiling this essay.

1 David Malangi, [artist’s statement] quoted in J. Mundine,� ‘David Malangi’ in Bernice Murphy and Janet Parfenovics (eds), Australian Perspecta 1983: A biennial survey of contemporary Australian art, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1983, p.67.
2 The dark brown pigment is ratjpa. The rich red pigment is ginimini in Manharrŋu language or girrwal in Balmbi language. John Weluk, personal communication with the author, 2004.
3 Rärrk: colour, painting, painted design. Syn: miny’tji. David R Zorc, ‘Yolŋu-Matha Dictionary’, Bachelor NT: School of Australian Linguistics, Darwin Institute of Technology, p.238. (Following references to the dictionary appear as Zorc, p.x.)
4 Yolŋu observe a mourning taboo; for a period the name of the deceased is not spoken and the deceased is referred to by another name. Malangi’s mourning reference was Daymirriŋu. As Malangi was very well known, the family agreed to the use of his former name shortly after his passing, in print media and on his headstone. Five years after his passing, with the family’s authority, we have returned to his original name.
5 Spelling varies according to language. Manharrŋu and Manyarrŋu are the same people. Manharrŋu is the Djambarrpuyŋu language spelling; Manyarrŋu, the Djinang spelling. Shirley Daymirriŋu (a daughter of Malangi) states that the tree is manyarr, the tribe is Manharrŋu and the language is Manyarrŋu (Djinang). Shirley Daymirriŋu, personal communication with the author, 2002. The Manharrŋu belong to a bäpurru (ceremonial group of patrilineally related kin), Howard Morphy, Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal system of knowledge, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, p.309. The group includes the Liyagalawumirr, the Buyuyukulmirr, the Djambarrpuyŋu and the Garrawurra. All Dhuwa clans. Shirley Daymirriŋu, personal communication with the author, 2004.
6 Ratjpa: ochre-dark reddish brown, clay found on Elcho Island, used for painting; Haematite; red(dish), purple, Zorc, p.238. It produces the deep brown and rosy colour in Malangi’s paintings.
7 Zorc, p.233.
8 Another name for Mulaŋa is Burralŋalŋurr.See ‘David Malangi’ 22 January 1990, talking with Djon Mundine about his paintings in the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) collection. Audiocassette. Transcript in NGA Research Library and ‘Liyagalawumirr – Manharrŋu’ in Northern Territory Archives Service, Uniting Church of Australia, NTRS 40 ‘Records relating to Milingimbi Township 1945–1983’, Box 6 – drawer 11.3.1.
9 ‘David Malangi’ 22 January 1990, talking with Djon Mundine about his paintings in the NGA collection. Audiocassette. Transcript in NGA Research Library.
10 Personal communication with the author, 2004.
11 ‘David Malangi’: artist biography information sheet, Ramingining, Bula’bula Arts.
12 The Methodist Overseas Mission (MOM), Milingimbi, est. 1923. See Keith Cole, The Aborigines of Arnhem Land. Adelaide: Rigby,1979. For Arnhem Land mission histories see also Ann E Wells, Milingimbi: ten years in the Crocodile Islands of Arnhem Land, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1963, Maisie McKenzie,�Mission to Arnhem Land, Adelaide: Rigby, 1976, and Ella Shepherdson, Half a century in Arnhem Land, One Tree Hill, SA: E and H Shepherdson, 1981.
13 Balmbi or Balmawuy was Malangi’s wives’ clan as well as his mother’s. See Margie West ‘Yathalamarra – Land of the waterlily’.
14 First attempt: the Ranger boat took us across the river, dropped us at Guldirraginy and took Birrinbirrin on to the coastal outstation Dhipirri with a jerry can of fuel for the tractor to drive us around the country, only to find the tractor’s battery was flat. Hours later, Birrinbirrin returned on foot. We (women) had waited under the trees at the landing. Second attempt: family and I spent much of the day arranging to borrow a dinghy, but it was eventually unavailable. Third successful attempt: borrowed dingy with fuel, able to cross river to the other side, where we ‘foot walked’ around the country looking at sites. The threat of crocodiles was imminent on all attempts.
15 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
16 Richard Birrinbirrin, (a son of Malangi) personal communication with the author, 2002. Zorc, p.145. Part of the word: gupulu, translates to body. This implies the body of the land (not nose or tail), so can also be read as the plain and the country to the north (Ŋurrunyuwa) being the ŋurru (nose).
17 Rapam was the key responsibility of Malangi’s eldest brother George Burija-1. Richard Birrinbirrin, personal communication with the author, 2002.
18 There are two types of palms in the area. The Gulwirri palm belongs to Mulaŋa, the other type of palm belongs to Gamalaga people and is related to the Mooroonga story. Shirley Daymirriŋu, personal communication with the author, 2004.
19 ‘Gurrmirriŋu:� mythical beings like Yolŋu who lived on Gurriba and were exterminated by the Yolŋu’. Zorc, p.147.
20 ‘Gurrmirringu Story’ information sheet, story recorded by Brian Yambal-2, Ramingining: Bula’bula Arts.
21 Gurrmirriŋu is considered an ancestral founder for this particular area much like the Djan’kawu. Unlike the Djan’kawu, Gurrmirriŋu is not recorded as having travelled extensively.
22 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
23 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
24 May Yamangarra (a daughter of Malangi), personal communication with the author, 2002.
25 Zorc, p.164.
26 ‘Ŋarrimirriu – Malarra clan spirit at Mooroonga. One person (same as Gurrmirriŋu) but changed identity at Mooroonga’. Shirley Daymirriŋu, personal communication with the author, 2002.
27 When Gurrmirriŋu arrived at Mooroonga the Malarra, Guryindi and Gamalaŋga clans became one bäpurru (group).
28 ‘Gurrmirringu Story’ information sheet, story recorded by Brian Yambal-2, Ramingining: Bula’bula Arts.
29 L Allen, Time Before Morning: Art and Myth of the Australian Aborigines, New York: Thomas Y Cromwell Company, 1975, p.221. Allen also notes that Gurrmirriŋu’s wife ‘was of the waterlily totem’. This is the totem of Malangi’s Balmbi wives. Elsie Ganbada, a wife of Malangi, confirms that Gurrmirriŋu had a miyalk (woman/wife). Personal communication with the author, 2004.
30 Wurray: {D} devil, ghost (spirit which roams around); Mantis, Stick Insect (which is associated with devils), Zorc, p.271.
31 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
32 Zorc, p.172. Dharpa is the word used for snake and also tree, wood, stick.
33 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
34 For the circumstances surrounding the ‘dollar note’ painting, see Djon Mundine, ‘Some people are stories’, this publication, pp.33–35.
35 Wally Caruana (ed.), Windows on the Dreaming: Aboriginal paintings in the Australian National Gallery, Chippendale: Ellsyd Press; Canberra: Australian National Gallery, 1989, p.78.
36 See Nigel Lendon’s interpretations of Malangi’s style in terms of three dimensions in ‘Innovation and its meanings’.
37 Zorc, p.224.
38 Caruana, op. cit. (1993), p.53.
39 Alan Fidock, personal communication with the author, 2003.
40 This tree is named both Wurrumbuku and räga: the same plant in two languages. Räga is the Djambarrpuyŋu word, Wurrumbuku is the Manharrŋu Djinang word. Shirley Daymirriŋu, personal communication with the author, 2004. Räga: shrub – and its small sweet-tasting fruit. White berry bush (Securinega virosa; Bridelia ovata), Zorc, p.235.
41 George Burijŋa-1 is recorded as Manyarrŋu, b.1920, of the outstation Dhäbila, active (painting) in 1962 and in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Visual Artists’ Database (NATSIVAD), Sydney: Discovery Media, viewed 27 April 2004,
42 Although the brothers have ‘primary’ responsibility or focus for particular areas; ‘The brothers all have the right to paint all these areas. They handle (the areas) together.’ Richard Birrinbirrin, personal communication with the author, 2004.
43 Malangi’s teacher was Dhawadanygulili (1900–1976) recorded by Fidock. Dhawadanygulili was of the opposite moiety, a Yirritja painter and so would have instructed Malangi as a djuŋgayi, (manager) of Malangi’s Dhuwa moiety subjects. It is unlikely then that Malangi was taught the format he developed from his djuŋgayi, rather the authorised content.
44 Letter from Don [Green?] to Edward Ruhe in Edward L Ruhe Archival Collection at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, 29 April 1973.
45 Other Yolŋu artists are known for pushing the boundaries; for example, Wandjuk and Banduk Marika. See Ian Keen, Knowledge and Secrecy in an Aboriginal Religion, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, and Peter G Toner, When the Echoes are gone: A Yolngu musical anthropology, PhD thesis, Department of Anthropology, Australian National University (ANU), 2001. I’m grateful to Ian Keen for his help on this issue.
46 Alan Fidock, personal communication with the author, 2003. Garma(): ceremonial site – for circumcision, held in camp; any open sacred ceremony. Zorc, p.124. In this context the expression rom is preferred by my informants Birrinbirrin and Weluk. Rom: culture, behaviour, law, rule, custom, tradition, Zorc, p.241. See Morphy, op. cit. (1991), p.78. See also W. Lloyd Warner, A Black Civilization: A social study of an Australian tribe. rev. ed., New York: Harper, 1958.
47 Mortuary ceremonies are considered ‘outside’ or public. See Morphy, op. cit. (1991), pp.75–99. I am grateful to Howard Morphy for his help on this issue and acknowledge his expression ‘clan owned set forms’.
48 Bir’yun: sparkle, glitter, shine, Zorc, p. 28. ‘To shimmer, shine, scintillate. Used to refer to the aesthetic effect of finely cross-hatched paintings, which is interpreted as a manifestation of the wangarr’ in Morphy, op. cit. (1991), p.309.
49 Morphy, op. cit. (1991) explains this pp.193-196 and refers to Thomson’s field notes (4 August.1937 and 5 August 1937) held at Museum Victoria, Melbourne.
50 David Malangi [exhibition catalogue] Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des musees nationaux, Musée national des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie. pp.64–65.
51 See Ian Keen, ‘One Ceremony, One Song: An economy of religious knowledge among the Yolŋu of North-east Arnhem Land’, PhD thesis, ANU, 1978, pp.42–46.
52 Luku: foot, feet, toe(s); footprint; root (of tree); anchor; wheel; tyre, Zorc, p.163.
53 See discussion of luku in Malangi’s Balmbi hollow logs in The Aboriginal Memorial in Susan Jenkins, ‘It’s a Power: An interpretation of The Aboriginal Memorial in its Ethnographic, Museological, Art Historical and Political Contexts’, M. Phil. thesis, School of Art, ANU, 2003, pp.182–185.
54 David Rumbarumba (a classificatory son of Malangi – son of his Murruŋun clan brother Marrawili). Shirley Daymirriŋu, personal communication with the author, 2004.
55 Gurrmirriŋu was ‘cutting turtle’ here. ‘Cutting turtle’ is the expression of Birrinbirrin who was talking to me about Gurrmirriŋu. On an outside level it refers to the dissection of a turtle ready for distribution and cooking. Also see Thomson (1949), where he suggests this activity being related to clan position and seniority.
56 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
57 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
58 Fidock when asked says he never saw such images on bark in the 1960s or 70s. Personal communication with the author, 2003.
59 See Mundine, ‘Some people are stories’, p.35.
60 Räkay: water-reed or sedge, especially its edible rush corm (root portions) (Eleocharis dulcis), Zorc, p. 235. Girrgili (water weed), ruŋi (yams), Zorc, p.242, Bilma (clapsticks), Zorc, p.26.
61 Dhona (digging sticks), Zorc, p.84. Although the Djan’kawu are strongly associated with the western bank, they were on both banks, but on the east bank (Gurrmirriŋu country) they ‘minded their own business’. Richard Birrinbirrin, personal communication with the author, 2002.
62 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
63 The word Dhämala might be derived from two smaller words dhä and mala: Dhä: mouth; mouth of river; door; opening, orifice, Zorc, p.64; / mala: group of people, tribe, clan, crowd, mob, set, bunch; track, path, Zorc, p.167. Dhämala in this light effectively translates to: the people who live at the mouth of the river. ‘It’s the place that’s got a lot of people. Country where people sit down in one mob.’ John Weluk, personal communication with the author, 2004.
64 Dhäbila was Malangi’s brother Boyun’s land. On Boyun’s passing in 1982, Malangi assumed ‘focus’ and responsibility for this area as well – from Dhäbila on the coast, inland to Gilimgarri waterhole. Djon Mundine, personal communication with the author, 2004.
65 Ian Keen discusses the demarcation of clan land by visible and non-visible boundaries in landscape: ‘perhaps just an imaginary line between two trees’ Keen, op. cit. (1978), p.47. There is in fact a Yirritja parcel of land between Dhäbila and Dhämala. Dhäbila is also the site of the barge landing where a weekly barge from Darwin docks and delivers supplies to the Yolŋu and Balanda of Ramingining.
66 As Gamanydjan, I was an adopted Balanda sister of Malangi, whose skin (sub-section) name was Gamarrang. Gamarrang and Gamanydjan are siblings.
67 The Djan’kawu on arrival on the shores of north-east Arnhem Land are recorded as a brother and two sisters, but records of their travels in central Arnhem Land only mention the Djan’kawu Sisters.
68 See Wally Caruana ‘Wagilak and Djang’kawu’ in Howard Morphy and Margo Smith Boles (eds), Art from the Land: Dialogues with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection of Aboriginal art, Charlottesville: The University of Virginia, 1999, pp.121–155, and Ian Keen, ‘The Djang’kawu story in art and performance in Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neale (eds), The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp.136–141.
69 See Jenkins, op. cit. (2003), for a discussion of the Manharrŋu and Liyagawumirr hollow logs in The Memorial in the NGA collection relating to the Djan’kawu. pp.178–180.
70 Personal communication with the author, 2002.
71 Nonda: shellfish edible, Telescope Mud Creeper, Zorc, p. 206 / rägudha: kneecap, shellfish-large edible cockle, Zorc, p.235 / dhukuray: shellfish-edible, Lined Nerite (Nerite lineate), Zorc, p.81 / djuny’tjumu: shellfish, Mangrove Mure (Chicoreus permestus), Zorc, p.109 / djuŋgaliwarr: shell-edible, Conch, Trumpet shell, Zorc, p.109.
72 RM Berndt, Djanggawul: An Aboriginal Religious Cult of North-Eastern Arnhem Land, New York: Philosophical Library, 1953, Song 138 , pp.230–231.
73 Ŋanmarra: mat-conical (for sleeping), Zorc, p.222.
74 The interpretation depends on the patri-group (clan). See Keen, op. cit. (1994), and Keen, op. cit. (2000).
75 Spring (permanent source of freshwater), Zorc, p.186.
76 ‘Fresh water has always been there, wet and dry, it’s always been there, all seasons. Since the creation of the Djan’kawu when they used those two sticks.’ John Weluk, personal communication with the author, 2004.
77 Madayin(): sacred, secret, holy, taboo, any sacred object (s); an important sacred ceremony, Zorc, p.166. Mardayin: ‘sacred law’ in particular that which is restricted as opposed to Garma’. Morphy, op. cit. (1991), p.310.
78 Shirley Daymirriŋu, confirmed that whilst ‘Gurrmirriŋu all allowed to paint and know, Yo, Milminydjarrk is the restricted one’. Personal communication with the author, 2004.
79 Adjacent to Mirrmirrŋurr Milminydjarrk are other small waterholes which are restricted and only accessible to senior men with a certain level of ritual knowledge.
80 See The Waterhole c.1968, bark painting in Art Gallery of Western Australia collection, 1988/1100.
81 Records of other Manharrŋu artists are few. Boyun, Malangi’s brother painted some ceremonial designs in the 1960s. For the last 20 years of Malangi’s life he was the only Manharrŋu artist of his generation painting for the public domain and, in all likelihood, in the ceremonial domain. It is difficult to know how many Manharrŋu clan members had responsibilities for painting for ceremony, yet it seems Malangi was the person with the most authority across all these aspects of Yolŋu cultural life.
82 For example Untitled [Milminydjarrk], 1967, bark painting, in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) collection, ABART-0429.
83 Fiona Magowan, ‘Ways of knowing polymorphism and co-substantive essences on Yolngu sea cosmology’ in The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education (formerly The Aboriginal Child at School) vol.29,� no.1, 2001, pp.22–35.
84 See Mundine’s discussion of this work in ‘Some people are stories’.
85 Zorc, p.237.
86 Waŋarr: totemic ancestors, culture heroes (god-like beings who originally inhabited the earth then changed themselves into animals, birds monsters etc.) ; sacred things, Zorc, p.254. Miligidji is an alternative for Waŋarr suggested by Richard Birrinbirrin.
87 By having their bodies painted in ceremony they can become like a sacred object and of the Waŋarr. See Morphy, op. cit. (1991), pp.104–105.
88 From around 1969 according to Birrinbirrin. The Milingimbi mission ‘census’ records Malangi in a house in Milingimbi in 1971, but he may not have spent much time actually on the mission.
89 Djuŋgayi: boss, ‘manager’, ‘lawyer’ (relation a person has to the ceremonies and land of his mother’s clan), Zorc, p.109.
90 Djalumbu is the hollow log while djapin is the name for a waterhole, so this site is the site of the hollow log in the waterhole.
91 ‘Murayana place is Burridulpum’, Shirley Daymirriŋu, personal communication with the author, 2004.
92 West, ‘Yathalamarra – Land of the waterlily’.
93 In those days, Malangi’s house was known as ‘bottom camp’, while the houses further up are known as ‘top camp’. Both camps comprise Yathalamarra outstation, which is situated roughly in the middle of Yathalamarra, a part of the central peninsula that occupies the middle of the horseshoe shape (of water). Now Malangi’s camp is known as ‘middle camp’ as new houses have been built to the south of the outstation, becoming the new bottom camp.
94 Memorably, once to photograph Bula’bula fibre products in their environment of origin, and another time in a canoe in wet season with Judy and Elsie to harvest räkay as well as check the sedge fibre bags placed by the women in the water days earlier to soak cycad nuts. These activities echo the actions of the ancestral waterlily women who taught Balmbi how to dig for and prepare lily roots for making into bush bread as well as how to make mewini sedge grass (Cyperus javanicus) dilly bags for food collecting and sieving. See West, ‘Yathalamarra – Land of the waterlily’.
95 Including the edges of the billabong where the darter tree site is, from where you can see the womens’ underwater pool; Banikidjarri, where the family picnic and hunt long-necked tortoise and where the Yirritja tortoise, hollow log and catfish travelled through; and a valiant attempt to visit Wulŋir, the site of the lightning snake.
96 Including from left to right Gindjimirri, the waterlily bulbs, Burala, the darter, Barriŋnan, the water snake, Giny’kiny, the eel-tailed catfish, and Djalumbu, the hollow log coffin.
97 Bipimirriny: bird, Comb-crested Jacona, (Jacona gallinacean), Zorc, p.28. Known locally as the ‘Jesus bird’ because it walks on the waterlily pads and it looks like it is walking on water.
98 See Keen, op. cit. (1978), and Craig Elliott, ‘Mewal is Merri’s’ Name: Form and ambiguity in Marrangu Cosmology, North Central Arnhem Land’, M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, ANU, 1991.
99 See West, ‘Yathalamarra – Land of the waterlily’.
100 The Yathalamarra columnar works were produced around 1988–90 – arguably Malangi’s strongest period of painting. At this time he had the MAGNT commission of Yathalamarra works, contributed 10 magnificent hollow log coffins to The Aboriginal Memorial and attended the Dreamings exhibition at the Asia Society Galleries in New York in 1988. See Mundine, ‘Some people are stories’; and West, ‘Yathalamarra – Land of the waterlily’.
101 In 1987 Malangi was a visitor at the Gold Coast Arts Centre for a survey show of Ramingining art and to lead a commissioned mural project at the site. In 1990, Malangi with Paddy Dhäthaŋu completed a mural project for the opening of the new Darwin Post Office in 1990. See Mundine ‘Some people are stories’.
102 Nigel Lendon arranged to have a plaque for the headstone made up in Canberra as a gift from ANU and took it with him, ready to adhere medals and install it in the headstone during the week of the funeral in July 1999.
103 See Susan Jenkins, ‘Dr David Daymirriŋu (1927–1999): a born painter’, artonview, issue no.19, Spring 1999, pp.24–25.
104 See Morphy, op. cit. (1991), p.64.

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