The songs which found this work’s meaning start as the Djaŋ’kawu Sisters journey from their mythical Atlantis-like island Burralku. They arrived in North-East Arnhem land at sunrise. Indeed, the name given to this part of Australia is Miwatj or Morning Side referring to the fact that this is the first part of the Top End to see the morning sun.
Matalatj (the elder sister who gives birth later in the story) and Bitjiwurrurru (her younger sister who acts as midwife) have just paddled their canoe a long way and then climbed the sand dunes to where they stop for a rest as the sun rises. The suns rays strike the Buwarta (English name Bustard ) and reflect off the water. As this happens the Sisters sing Buwarta and name it. They do the same as the sun strikes two other important Dhuwa birds related to the Rirratjingu clan , Lindirritj (rainbow lorikeet) and Ŋatili (black cockatoo).
The Sisters put their paddles down and it turned into the sacred djuta tree from which they hung their ceremonial bathi or sacred dilly bags. Gowudalbudal (the male shining flycatcher) who sings the tide coming in or going out sat on one of those trees.
The work has a representation of the sacred spring or Milŋurr that the Sisters found that morning. To Dhuwa people this motif represents knowledge. The pattern suggests the rippling outflowing waters. A child’s spirit resides in these waters until it gushes into existence and even then it remains watery for some time. Its fontanelle is a lingering manifestation of its origin.
The songs tell the sister’s name Gudurrku (Brolga) and Baripari (Sacred Ibis). The sun still rises as goannas drink from Milŋurr and Ŋatili hears the crashing of the waves and sees the foam created by the meeting of fresh and salt water. Mangirrikirri the fruitbats are haloed by the rising sun .
The Sisters prepare for the first birth, a self- fertilised act of creation. Their white hair, Djawulu, is symbolic of sacred wisdom.
The sun has risen on the birth of a nation; the Rirratjingu clan .
With them they carried dilly bags, mats and digging sticks that were to later manifest into sacred objects through ritual of song and dance that started on the sea of travel and into the sand dunes rimming the landing shores of Yalaŋbara.
From Yalaŋbara the Djaŋ’kawu set out on their epic journey of eastern Arnhem Land, travelling on what they sanctified as Dhuwa land, singing the country and splitting it up into clan estates, designating sacred law (madayin) song, dance, totem, language to each as they went. Thus the one side of the duality that governs the Yolŋu of Arnhem Land – the two moiety system of the Dhuwa and the Yirritja, emanated from Yalaŋbara.
Today on the sandy beach at Yalaŋbara freshwater is found. By digging at the right location the freshwater seeps through the sand pooling in the hole dug. Rirratjiŋu song cycles celebrate the Djaŋ’kawu creating this well by plunging the sacred Mawalan (digging stick) into this area as they strode up the beach with their possessions to to the sand dunes further up. This well with water of sacred and special qualities called Milŋurr.
These sisters gave birth to all Dhuwa clans starting here.
Affected by salt on their sea journey and the incursion of freshwater at Yalaŋbara, the mixing of the two was the catalyst for procreation. Today the tides of the sea and flow of freshwater are sung to explain and ensure the cycles of conception, birth and death of the Rirratjiŋu from their clan lands (Yalaŋbara) to relate specifically to the powers of the Djaŋ’kawu and the land they affected for the Dhuwa.
A further stamp of clan ownership to Yalaŋbara is the use of the Rirratjiŋu clan crosshatched design. For those with the appropriate secret/sacred knowledge, the inner sanctums of Rirratjiŋu knowledge of ritual associated with the events of the Djaŋ’kawu can be read.