Paper Size: 87 x 39cm; Image Size, 69 x 24cm;Paper, Somerset
Mitjparal ga Yirrmala
Djerrkŋu’s conception was as a Mermaid on the Wessel Islands. As she describes;
“Before, they were all staying at Martjanba [Marchinbar, Wessel Islands]. Our father and [his] wives – too many, his wives, and other children, siblings, were born there at Martjanba. And I [was] conceived there at Martjanba. My spirit became to be there.
After the Second World War our father decided to come back to the mainland, to Yirrkala. He put all our mothers in the lipa lipa [dugout canoe] and they all travelled home, and around that time I was conceived in my mother’s belly and my spirit was the Mermaid, white skinned from the ocean with scales. And that is when my spirit revealed itself to my Father.
My dad was walking in the morning with his spear and his woomera (spear thrower). He walked down to the beach to hope he could spear a fish. Where he is walking on the beach there are these rocks and on the rock was sitting this mermaid.
My dad sees the tail of the mermaid and thinks he has seen a fish, so he walks closer and closer and closer and silently puts the woomera into the spear ready to throw. He throws the spear at the mermaid but she jumps into the water. The spear hits her tail though and the blood from it sits on the water. My father speared my spirit being, it shows here on my leg … this black marking. Speared me thinking I was a big fish; the fish dived deeper in a cave underneath the sea … and there was lots and lots of blood. My father felt sorry for that fish seeing lots of blood. He cupped a handful and smelt it and realised that it was human blood.
So he stands very still and thinks and then he turns around and heads home. He gets home and lies down and falls into a deep sleep. He is very worried about the human blood.
He dreams. In his dream he sees the mermaid and realises it was no ordinary fish. It was me. I was telling him in the dream “That was me dad, don’t spear me. Bapa … why did you try to spear me? It is I, it was not a fish’’.
He woke up and saw my mother preparing yams, ganguri. She was cooking ganguri and he said to himself, ‘OK I will ask your mother whether she is having a baby or not’.
My father said to her, ‘I just had a dream … are you with child?’
‘Yes, I am with child,’ my mother said. And so it was this time when they all boarded the canoes, two canoes, with all my mothers, and headed to Yirrkala.”
She made this work of two of her granddaughters who she was pining for in the persona of Mermaids. Her daughter Ŋaytjiŋa’s daughter Yirrmala who had been formally adopted by a Tongan family as part of a diplomatic arrangement between the Rirratjiŋu clan and the local Tongan families. That family then moved to Brisbane where Yirrmala studied and excelled in athletics. Her sister in Yolŋu way is Mitjparal whose mother Merrkiyawuy is the daughter of Djerrkŋu’s elder sister Gaymala. Both of these young women are gutharra or daughter’s daughter for Djerrkŋu. In this image they are walking along a beach together just before they dive into the sea and swim together through the coral checking for Ḏalimbu (giant clams) and other shellfish. Djerrkŋu’s own märi (mother’s mother) is from the Warramirri clan, landowners of the Wessel Islands whose law is associated with the ocean and metamorphosis.