MULKA MEANS TO HOLD SOMETHING WITHOUT SPOILING IT.
MULKA IS A SACRED BUT PUBLIC CEREMONY
From 1975, Yolŋu elders began work on a series of artworks which would describe Yolŋu law. Their dream was that a museum would be built to reflect the shape of the Yolŋu world defined by two opposite sides, Yirritja and Dhuwa, within which individual clans have different identities.
Mulka Museum was opened in 1988 by Gough Whitlam, the museum was curated by Yolŋu Elders who designed bark paintings and sculptures for the space throughout the 1980’s. The bays on the left show bark paintings from each clan of the Yirritja moiety (or half) and the bays on the right show those of the Dhuwa moiety. Both halves are required to find a balance. Whilst in North East Arnhem Land everywhere that you go you will be either on Dhuwa or Yirritja land and every Yolŋu person you meet, every native species of plant or animal you see will be of one of these identities.
In 1998 an adjoining space was created to house the Church Panels which is one of the most important artworks in Australian art history. The Panels are two four metre works on masonite painted in earth pigments by 8 artists from each of the two defining halves of Yolŋu reality, Yirritja and Dhuwa. Made for the newly constructed Methodist Church, the Panels were later discarded by the Church and left to rot sometime around 1974 but rescued and brought into the fledgling Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre in about 1978.
Another national treasure displayed at the Mulka Museum are the Message Sticks. A message stick is a form of communicaiton passed between different clans and language groups to establish information and transmit messages. In 1936, Woŋgu gave Donald Thomson carved wooden message sticks to declare peace with the Northern Territory police, which is still in effect, and negotiate the release of his sons from Darwin. In 2001 these message sticks were gifted to Woŋgu’s descendants by the Thomson family. The Djapu clan decided to house the wooden carvings in the Mulka Museum.
Not only is the Mulka Museum responsible for an abundance of paintings and artefacts of great national significance it also facilitates cultural activities and community events by providing a relevant space and resources for workshops, performances, research and training, community and visitor education and cross-cultural awareness.