Earth pigments on Stringybark
63 x 37 cm
This painting refers to the Gälpu site of Ŋaypiŋa, a coastal area just north of Biranybirany on Caledon Bay. In one story from this place The Ancestral Hunter referred to as Wuluwuma, Binykarra or Banimi speared Namal the Dhuwa clan stingray and brought it to shore at Ŋaypiŋa to eat above the salt water mark, the Wurrkadi side. As both Hunter and Stingray were kin ie of the same moiety and clan the metaphor that deals with forbidden fruit may have some relevance.
Eating the stingray, they spit out the cartilage and hard bits – Birrdi. These bits can be represented by the white dots. However in this case the artist specifies a freshwater version of the story and that the roundrels depict Gaŋguri the yam. And the white dots the tracks of Wurrkaḏi. He specified the larger name of the place as Wakumidi.
Wurrkaḏi are grubs that live under the ground. They are the larvae of the large horned beetle (a form of scarab) and the actions of the Wurrkaḏi (like witchetty grubs) coming out from the ground to transform into flying insects have been recorded on this work as they are in the ancient songlines of the Gälpu. The roundrels can be seen as the site of contaminated carcass or the waŋa or place for the Wurrkaḏi, the dots – eggs. Each way a place of fertility.
In the larger myth there is a story of Yawulŋura an ancestral Yolŋu that lived in the olden days:
‘He was a human traditional Dhuwa Yolŋu, he lived at Ŋaypinya a place near Buymarr with his families. He travelled along the coastline making spears, string-bands, arm-bands, hollow-logs for the morning star, dilly-bags and digging sticks etc. Ŋaypinya is a Dhuwa place where the morning Star is sent too from Burralku, it comes up and goes to all the Dhuwa wäŋa (Balaybalay, Djawirrwuy, Wuḏupulay, Yarrapayyu, Garaŋarriyu, Gampukayu) and way down to North-east of Arnhem Land, that’s how the morning star is sent to all the Dhuwa places from Burralku.
One evening as he was sitting around the camp-fire with his families, he told them a story of Burralku of how people or the spirits live in the island, and when we died our spirit goes and join with the group and lives there for a long time, as he was telling the story to them that one day I will go and visit Burralku and see to myself what the place looks like. Then the next day as the dew fogs starts to clear away and the sun began to rise up, he smell the fire that the spirit people had lit, and he said to himself I can smell a fire burning somewhere along way far from this place.
So Yawulŋura sat down and talked to his families, that he will go to Burralku. So he pulled his canoe to the edge of the water, he took his second wife and some of his children and started to paddle and paddle and paddle with his wife and children. So they started their journey to Burralku, it was a long way to go.
Yawulŋura paddle and paddle and paddle and paddle, then he saw an island. He thought he might leave one of his wife and children in the island, because it seems a long way to travel with the family, so he left his wife and children on the island.
It was still along journey to travel, they traveled and slept half way and started again, as they paddle they try to taste the water but still salty. They paddle and paddle and paddle the water was still salty and kept on paddling Then he had another taste of the water, but still salty and he kept on traveling. Then rest of the island disappeared till they could hardly see. He turned around to see back to where he traveled from. Everything disappeared he could not see not even an island.
So as he was traveling he try to have another taste of water,still not fresh. He kept on paddling, paddling and paddling. He try to stretch his arms and legs as the canoe sailed along the water. They were thirsty for water, he stopped and tasted, finally he tasted the freshwater. Finally he told them that they are getting closer to Burralku. He stretch again and saw an island and said to himself this must be it the island of Burralkuwuy.
Yawulŋura could see the bushfire coming up as they came closer and closer then he smelled another bushfire as Yawulŋura and his families made their way to the beach. The Spirits came running to meet them now, they could smell human people. They started to feel and touch them that they’ve got head and skull. They said to themselves we’ve got visitors in our land. They smell differently to us. As soon as they got out from the canoe the Spirits people surrounded them and started to touch them. They just want to feel them if they are real people or spirit just like them.
The Spirits of Burralku were very happy to see them. They are the happiest spirits that ever lived. Yawulŋura sat down, he was a great man he started to sing and dance his own song and the spirits danced while he walked along the camp, seeing so many spirits dancing for the morning star. Many of them were making dilly-bags, painting themselves for buŋgul (dance), getting yams, wildberries, making spears, playing didgeridoo.
Everywhere he went he can feel the laughter, the play of the didgeridoo, clap-sticks and the sound of the noise that the spirit people make it was coming from everywhere. He went around to see the great morning Star that the spirits have made, so there were lots and lots of exciting things that he saw.
They gave him water, yams, fruits, strings, and baskets to take back with him. He slept there for another night, and then talked to the spirits that he wants to go back home. So all the spirits talked to each other and they blew the sound of the didgeridoo to say good-bye to Yawulŋura and the families, they all circled around him and his families. They touched them again as they made their way to the canoe
Everyone was sad but afterwards they were happy again, so Yawulŋura went back to his land. He took with him the yam which did not exist in Arnhem land before this. But when he returned his families were long dead. Although he had only been gone for a couple of days time had stood still at Burralku but not in reality. Hundreds of years had passed and his families were all dead and their bones were turned to dust.’