The National Gallery of Australia dedicates this exhibition, No ordinary place, to the memory of David Malangi Daymirriŋu (1927–1999).

Travelling exhibition itinerary

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Family introduction

We are very happy to introduce this exhibition and book about David Malangi.

It’s been a long journey: the planning it’s been going for several years – from the time when our old man was alive. It’s got to the stage where we finally got somewhere and it’s now come to completion, in celebration of our father.

A lot of effort has been put in by a lot of different people: Susan Jenkins, Nigel Lendon, Djon Mundine, Margie West, Bula’bula Arts (Louise Partos and Belinda Scott) as well as the support of the Director of the National Gallery, Brian Kennedy and Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Brenda L Croft.

This exhibition is very important to us. It shows fully the work the old man did during that [life] time as a painter and clan leader, becoming recognised by people all around the world. Even though he passed away, his work still lives on. He didn’t take it with him but left it for generations. Members of our family are painting now – Richard Birrinbirrin, John Dhurrikayu, Valda Balmapalma, Shirley Daymirriŋu, Anita Ganbuganbu and May Yamangarra. We are so proud that his type of work is being made and when we pass away, it will be continued by the next generation through painting and continuing that story. Richard Birrinbirrin is now the clan leader for Manharrŋu people in his role as the primary singer and as a spokesperson for Manharrŋu people. He is the chief interpreter of Manharrŋu societal and legal issues. John Weluk is more involved in the ceremony than painting and also negotiations in Balanda rom [law, custom ] – a liaison between Yolŋu ga [and] Balanda.

Malangi was a very clever man. He had good thinking. He never forgot about sending his children to school. Even in mission time, he put the children to school. He sent them back to the mission for school. He wanted his children to have a good education. A generation of us went to Dhupuma, which is like a boarding high school for Yolŋu near Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land (Birrinbirrin, Weluk, Jacky Munyirrirr, Jimmy Banambur, Dick Milirrurr). That old man grew us up to be clever people. That’s what comes from this intense education we were given.  Our younger generation also had a good education in Darwin at Bachelor College and Nungalinya College (Shirley Daymirriŋu, May Yamangarra).

Over many years members of our extended family have held strong positions in our community. Birrinbirrin trained as a health worker, and is now Chairman of Bula’bula Arts, Milirrurr is a lay minister with the Uniting Church, Weluk was the Ramingining bank agent as well as an ATSIC regional councillor, Shirley Daymirriŋu is a health worker with the Ramingining Clinic, Neville Gulaygulay was a school teacher, a Council works supervisor, a Ramingining Resource worker (airline agent) and now works with Australian Quarantine in Darwin. Dhurrikayu and Yamangarra have worked with Ramingining Council and Ramingining Arts and Crafts and Bula’bula Arts in administration and both have served on the Executive Committee of Bula’bula Arts. Jimmy Banambur was the President of Bagot Community Council in Darwin for a number of years. Anita and Valda haven’t worked in this way, but they do have the Yolŋu and Manharrŋu knowledge expressed through painting. This education – Yolŋu and Balanda – was our father’s legacy.

The old man’s wives, the Balmbi women, are the senior traditional owners of the Balmbi country and stories. They have also worked as artists for many years and are renowned weavers from the outstations Yathalamarra and Naŋalala. When the old man painted at home, the women would be working alongside him making beautiful objects with fibre like dilly bags, baskets, mats, sculptures and ceremonial items. Elsie Ganbada, Judy Baypuŋala, Margaret Gindjimirri and Rosie Wurdam carry on their artistic practice today, continuing the strong artistic tradition of the Malangi mob.

The old man passed the knowledge to us, the Manharrŋu as well as the Balmbi. The message is that it’s important that we paint our own totems, our own stories. Say for instance, nginibi, we want to paint the country. We have to stick to our area. We’re not going to step into another area, for which we don’t have permission. That’s the way Yolŋu’s [law] been, it’s like Land Rights – you have to ask permission: ‘Can I go to your land? Do some hunting there?’ If they say yes, okay.

This book, these type of books are being written down by people who have been working and living with Yolŋu; they understand Yolŋu rom. Yolŋu law is not that different to Balanda – it’s the same values and has to be looked at properly.

All people have cultures and beliefs, different backgrounds. It’s going to take a long time but maybe in a few years we hope it’s going to change people’s minds – a lot of people and politics to change politicians’ minds.

When Malangi got that medal, some of his children were only young, five or six or seven years old. We got a shock. It had meaning, some kind of recognition from the Reserve Bank as the first Yolŋu man, the first Indigenous man to get recognition for the ownership of his design. It paved the way for other Aboriginal people with copyright. We were surprised, pleased too when that old man became a Doctor of Laws. We were proud when we took him to Canberra to receive the award. We were proud, really proud. After he passed away, mobs of ATSIC and other government agencies came to pay tribute to him.

Yes we are proud.

Extended family of David Malangi Daymirriŋu including

Valda Balmapalma, Jimmy Banambur, Sadie Banygarra, Judy Baypuŋala, Richard Birrinbirrin, Katie Bopirri, Valerie Bulkaŋu, John Costa, David Datpukarri, Shirley Daymirriŋu, John Dhurrikayu, Joan Djilidi, Daisy Galambarr, Elsie Ganbada, Anita Ganbuganbu, Christine Garraŋarr, Gwenda Gaypada, Margaret Gindjimirri, Neville Gulaygulay, Joyce Lambarrarr, Dick Milirrurr, Belinda Milŋurr, Daisy Mithulguwuy, Tommy Mulumbuk, Jacky Munyirrirr, David Rumbarumba, David Warrya, John Weluk, Joyce Werril, Rosie Wurdam, May Yamangarra

June 2004

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