215 x 13cm
Birth of a Nation
This work formed part of an installation which was a finalist in the 2020 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. The title of the piece was Birth of a Nation which refers to the foundational site of Yalaŋbara.
The design in this work and all of the other component pieces contains within it the identity of the coastal place of Yalaŋbara. This is as important a place as any for the Yolŋu people, especially the Dhuwa moiety, as it is the landing site of the Djaŋ’kawu – the major creator beings for everything associated with the Dhuwa. The Djaŋ’kawu story starts when the Djaŋ’kawu Sisters arrived from their mythical island Burralku.
They arrived in northeast 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 Buwaṯa (English name Bustard) and reflect off the water. As this happens the Sisters sing Buwaṯa and name it. They do the same as the sun strikes two other important Dhuwa birds related to the Rirratjiŋu clan; Ḻindirritj (rainbow lorikeet) and Ŋatili (black cockatoo).
The Sisters put their paddles down and they 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 sisters named Guḏurrku (Brolga) and Baribari (Sacred Ibis). The sisters plunge their sacred digging sticks Mawalan into the sand, creating the first Milŋurr, or fresh waterhole on the beach. The sun rises as two Djanda (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. From Djuta hang Mangirrikirri the fruitbats, 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. Mawalan, is the name given to the sacred staff the Sisters use to create springs and rocks and other features in their later journeys through the land of other Dhuwa clans. The design shows salt water drying off on the skin, the sand slipping down as the sisters mount the dunes. The sun has risen on the birth of a nation; the Rirratjiŋu clan.