Lot 13 

Baraltja Dugong Yathikpa

Napuwarri Marawili

71.5 x 28 cm
Bark painting
Bid on this piece
About the Artist

Napuwarri is the fourth child of the great artist Bakulaŋay Marawili. In the last years of his father’s life it was he who worked most closely on art with him. They completed a number of collaborative works together. He follows many of his father’s stylistic features and was endorsed as a legitimate artist of his clan’s sacred designs by his father before his death. Napuwarri first came to wider attention in the Yakumirri exhibition at Raft Artspace in Darwin. The Holmes a Court Collection bought this set of paintings in its entirety. He is an adaptable man with a versatile range of artistic skills. As well as dancing and singing in ceremony he sculpts as well as makes prints. As a young man he travelled to the east coast and worked as a carpenter and married to a Queensland Indigenous woman from Cairns and had two children before he moved back to north-east Arnhem land. He has strong links to Numbulwar through his second wife Rita and from his early years spent there as Bakulangay’s family was one of the last of the Madarrpa to move back to their homeland of Yilpara in the 1980s. Napuwarri worked for Buku-Larrnggay Mulka for two years before returning to Yilpara to live in 2006. His first solo show was at Suzanne O’Connell Gallery in 2008. The National Gallery of Australia bought two works from this show. The Kerry Stokes Collection has also acquired his work.

About the Work

Baraltja is the residence of Burrut’tji (also known as Mundukul) the lightning serpent. It is an area of flood plains that drain into northern Blue Mud Bay. It is on country belonging to the Madarrpa and denotes an area of special qualities pertaining to fertility and the mixing of waters. From Madarrpa (and Dhalwaŋu clan) land freshwater spreads onto the Baraltja flood plains with the onset of the Wet. A tidal creek into the Bay flows with the freshwater flushing the brackish mix into the sea over an ever-shifting sandbar (the snake manifest).  This flushing of freshwater excites Burrut’tji to stand on its tail spitting lightning in the directions from where the weather comes from. Waŋupini or thunderheads are seen flicking lightning on the horizon in the deep water named Muŋurru connecting with Madarrpa ancestors of the Dhiliyalyal tribe who lived at Boway Ŋipaŋwuy further down the coast.


This ancestral kinship tie is linked over sea country as well as the land and a cycle of events that also connect by lightning wind and rain has it so. The cloud is sung as femininity and fecundity, pregnant with life-giving freshwater.So as a harpoon travels or does lightning the estates are connected spiritually in a multi directional way - both to and from, a cyclic phenomenon which is chronicled in the sacred songs that narrate these Ancestral actions over land, through the sea and ether. It is worth noting that Yolŋu ‘science’ portrays this energy burst as coming up from the land which is now recognised by Western science as the precursor to downward lightning ‘strikes’.


In some renditions open ended strings of diamonds marks the classic miny’tji of the saltwater estate of Yathikpa. Here Bäru the ancestral crocodile, carrying and being burnt by the Ancestral fire crossed the beach from Garraŋali (crocodile’s nest) and entered the saltwater. Bäru decided after being soothed of his burns that he would stay in these waters. His sacred powers in line with that of the fire imbues the water there today. The eggs at Garraŋali are shown under the care of the mother crocodile. Gany’tjurr the Heron travels between fresh and salt and is an archetype of the Yirritja hunter. Later from the same beach Ancestral Hunters on seeing Dugong took their hunting harpoon and canoe out to the sea of Yathikpa in pursuit. The hunters were lured too close to a dangerous rock by the dugong seeking shelter. The dugong here feed on the Gamata, a sea grass that is a manifestation of flames on the sea bed. Wavy ribbons of seagrass sway in the sunlit wateras depicted here.


Fire at this sacred site boiled the water capsizing the canoe. This is sometimes called an ancestral tide and it is speculated that this is the oral tradition of an ancient tsunami which initiates death and founds existing mortuary ceremonies in the region like the sacred sand sculpture Yiŋapuŋapu which is a canoe shaped space which holds the contaminaton of decay at bay. The sacred harpoon changed into Dhakandjali the hollow log coffin/memorial pole that floats on the seas of Yathikpa and further afield within Blue Mud Bay, its directions connecting other Yirritja clans (Maŋgalili and Dhalwaŋu) through association of kin across the Bay in the same way that the electrical connection between their relative lightning serpents.  These events are sung today at Yirritja ceremony and the ‘deep’ names of Yathikpa intoned by Djerrakay, (ritual specialists).

Notable Collections

Art Gallery of Ballarat, Ballarat VIC

Artbank, Sydney NSW

Holmes a Court Collection, Perth WA

Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth WA

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra ACT

Westfarmers Collection, Perth WA

©  Environmental Defenders Office NT. 

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