Earth pigments on Stringybark
168 x 55cm
This story comes from Yathikpa, the region at the mouth of the Gunmurrutjpi River. In ancestral times, Bäru was living at Ditjpalwuy, on a creek in the Yathikpa area. Bäru’s wife Dhamiliŋu (blue tongue lizard) was living there with Bäru. Dhamiliŋu made a fire and aŋulurr, (shelter) and then went away to collect menduŋ, (freshwater snails). Whilst she was away, Bäru looked at the fire and the shelter and knew that they belonged to him and he talked to himself saying ‘this is my sacred area’. Then Bäru went to sleep in the shelter waiting for Dhamiliŋu to return. When Dhamiliŋu got back and she was cooking the snails, she and Bäru had a fight. She spat at him and threw the hot snail shells at him, and he threw her into the fire. Dhamiliŋu turned into a blue tongue lizard, and Bäru, with the bark from the shelter burning him, turned into a crocodile. Bäru threw some fire to a sacred rock offshore called Dhakalmayi. The fire is still there at the rock in the sea. He also spread the fire to different areas belonging to different clans. One of these was Garaŋali the Crocodile’s nest site. He went to Caledon Bay and gave fire to the Yunupiŋu Gumatj people at Ŋalarrwuy, and he went to Mata Mata in Burarrwaŋa Gumatj country and gave the fire. But most of all, fire and crocodile, the designs and ceremony belong to the Madarrpa people. That’s how Bäru made it when he was making that country and ceremony. The footprints of Djirikitj the Quail which carries fire as a burning twig and connects Madarrpa with Gumatj appear here. They make their home in the long dry grass which carries fire so well. At the base of the work the metamorphosis is beginning and there is still some semblance of human form but the change has begun. Eventually, the Ancestral Fire, symbolic of Madarrpa lore, burnt Bäru enough to permanently scar his back. He now needs to stay in the sea water to soothe his scarred back and remains terrified of fire. The influence of the fire remains in this water. Yolŋu speak of Gundirrŋaning (Stone fish) and Gaywarr (Box Jellyfish) as ‘burning’ their victims rather than stinging. This work shows mounds of vegetation which represent the crocodile’s nests at Garrangali. Garraŋali is a jungle within the flood plain area where the crocodiles nest. It is protected as a special place of significance for the Madarrpa by the intense heat of the lingering Ancestral Fire and the real presence of Bäru protecting its nests. Literally in the nesting season (build up) your feet will burn trying to cross this black mud plain. This time of year is known as Rarrandarr, meaning burning feet. The geography of the area is that the water from the flood plains of Garraŋali flow into the coastal estate of Yathikpa. And thence it joins with the other Yirritja moiety coastal seas flowing into the massive Yirritja ocean, Muŋurru. This Ocean which goes to the horizon and beyond ends at the clouds standing there. It plays and clashes and intertwines with the undifferentiated Dhuwa ocean in Blue Mud Bay out beyond sight of land.