For the yolŋu (Aboriginal inhabitants of notrh-east Arnhem Land), the land and the sea combine to hold the basis of their culture. Sacred places which are the very essence of their existence are located throughout the region.
One of these sacred sites is Garraŋali – the home of Bäru, the Ancestral Crocodile.
In 1996, the discovery of an illegal barramundi fishing camp which had desecrated Garradŋali caused great agitation in the community. The area was defiled with dumped rubbish – but the worst discovery was a hessian bag containing the severed head of crocodile.
Djambawa Marawili, a clan elder and chairperson of Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka (the Art Centre at Yirrkala), responded to this invasion of his sacred area and the sacrilege of the dismemberment of Bäru in his own nest.
The Balanda (European) to such a discovery might well have been violent. With inherent restraint, the Yolŋu reaction was generous. They would use their sacred art to explain to outsiders the meaning and lore which underpinned their society: they would paint their sacred stories to share with the outside world, so it could understand the magnitude of such desecration.
‘Sacred art that has been etched by the sea where the ocean roars. What do you Balanda call it? Big Sea? Yes. This is Sea Rights.’
The result is 800 bark paintings, a national tour, and this book which is
‘a deliberate effort to share a body of knowledge in the belief that when you, as a member of Australian society, understand it, you will be changed’
Djon Mundine OAM
The work stimulated and became a significant part of the evidence in the Blue Mud Bay case.
On 30 July 2008 the High Courf of Australia confirmed that traditional owners of the Blue Mud Bay region in north-east Arnhem Land, together with traditional owners of almost the entire Northern Territory coastline, have exclusive access rights to the tidal waters overlying Aboriginal land.
The historic second edition of the original catalogue traces the journey to its end with victory in the High Court.
Number Of Pages: 120