Presented with Buku-Larrngay Mulka Art Centre
By the Stars, Wind & Ocean Currents
Part I: Yolngu / Makassan Crossings
Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra & Nawurapu Wunungmurra
30 November to 8 February 2020
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Yolngu invited the Makassan people to their camp and explained to them who they were. Makassans explained who they were and why they came. In their heart they were Yolngu people. The Makassan taught the Yolngu their song and traditions and the Yolngu taught the Makassan their culture and law and tradition. – Dhuwarrwarr Marika, artist statement, Telstra National Indigenous and Islander Art Award, Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory, 2019
By the Stars, Wind & Ocean Currents garnered the notion of reciprocity inherent in the term ‘exchange’ or trade between the monsoon coast of northern Australia and the Indonesian archipelago. The ‘open archipelago’ has passed from living memory but extended families, grave sites, rock art and ceremonies survive.The exhibition presented powerful bark paintings, larrakitj, prints and works on paper, stemming from multiple generations. Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Nawurapu Wunungmurra and Nawurapu’s granddaughter Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra (in her debut exhibition), together drew upon a fascinating counter-history: the relationship between Makassan and Yolngu people.
This was the first in a series of exhibitions by contemporary artist networks in the region, presenting a complex reality involving many world civilisations— one that defies the singular and incorrect ‘discovered by Captain Cook’ mythology of Australia.
To some, including academic Regina Gantner, ‘The telling of the Makassan stories has become an act of resistance. It refuses to allow a government decision to sever the link to Makassar, Timor and Sama Bajo places’. Scholars working in anthropology and archaeology, and curators of select museum and permanent exhibits, have kept the flame burning. The standout so far is acknowledged as historian Peter Spillett’s epic counterpoint to the 1988 Bicentennial of British annexation: a reconstructed prahu(1) titled Hati Marege/ Heart of Arnhem Land, built for a voyage from Makassar to make landfall at Galiwin’ku and Yirrkala. This vessel now sits in the Maritime Museum: Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Spillett additionally worked with the Yolngu peoples to re-connect family lines across the archipelago.
In 1947, senior ceremonial leaders at Yirrkala produced hundreds of vibrant crayon drawings compiled by anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt, which now reside at the Berndt Museum of Anthropology.(2) Dhuwarrwarr Marika draws inspiration from her father Mawalan Marika’s original work entitled Makassan Swords and Long Knives (1947).(3) The swords can be seen as a symbol of the relationship that Yolngu people shared with the seafaring Makassans. In the 1960s, Mawalan Marika was also a key informant for Campbell Macknight, whose doctoral research on the trepangers is published as The Voyage to Marege: Macassan trepangers in northern Australia.(4) In this classic work Macknight presents ‘Australia’s first modern industry’.
Yolngu oral, dance and visual traditions are emphatically alive today. In 2015, Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre initiated an ongoing Makassan/Yolngu history exchange project. Artist and senior law man Nawurapu Wunungmurra travelled to Makassar in 2015 and his batik—a collaboration with batik artisans from Pekalongan in Central Java—was presented to the Textile Museum in Jakarta in 2017. Wunungmurra’s bark paintings and larrakitj show the distinctive glyph-like monsoon clouds, winds and ocean currents of the complex monsoon system that powered the trade. These dynamic sea passages were sailed by expert captains on prahu with multi-cultural crews—Makassarese, Butonese, Bugis, Bajau, Madurese and ‘Koepangers’ from Dutch Timor. They crossed the deep channels of the archipelago via Timor, to the northern Australian coastline, guided by the stars or a small compass.
Strategically located between western and eastern Indonesia, Makassar was the centre of Gowa Sultanate, which adopted Islam in 1605, with its sword belts and talismanic discs. The sultanate was then conquered by the Portuguese. There is much that is alive and open to interpretation about the trade. Dates differ, with some researchers citing trade beginnings through the records of conquest by the Dutch East India Company (c. 1669). Others citing the navigators Matthew Flinders or Nicholas Baudin (1803). Dhuwarrwarr Marika’s bark work Milnurr (2019), depicts a ‘Malay Road’ as described by Flinders.
At the onset of the north-west winds that usually arrive in December, a fleet of 50 or more prahu annually left Makassar in South Sulawesi. After ten or so days they would make landfall on Marege—the coast from Melville Island to Arnhem Land—and venture down into Yanyuwa Country in the Gulf of Carpentaria, a distance of over 1000 kms. Alternatively they would turn towards Kayu Jawa (the Kimberley). All are lands and waters occupied by Aboriginal nations. The two groups entered into a series of reciprocal negotiations for the right to spend four to five months collecting and processing trepang.(5) Local communities were thus linked to an international trading network. At the conclusion of their stay, trepang fishers returned home again via Timor with the south-east trade winds.
Federation cut 20th century Australia off from the world with taxes, charges and the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, which formed the basis of the White Australia Policy and an aggressive nation state. Makassan trepangers were outlawed at the urging of missionary groups and through greed to establish a second Singapore. The last voyage took place during the 1906–07 wet season, when people who had sailed the waters for generations were summarily evicted.
Academic Marcia Langton notes, ‘The trade was absorbed as innovations in philosophy and practice in the performing and visual arts.(6) Material items traded included dugout canoes, woven fibre sails, steel knives and other metals, hooks, fishing lines and beads as well as tobacco, cards, money and alcohol. Returning prahu added pearl, tortoise shell and artefacts to their valuable cargo of smoked trepang. Woven cloth— another traded item—remains important in Yolngu and Tiwi welcoming and mortuary ceremonies. Makassan pidgin became a lingua franca along the north coast, not just between Makassan and Aboriginal people, but also between different Aboriginal groups—in Yolngu about 500 words are still in use. Makassan and Malay influences live on today in language, ceremonies, songs, dances, artworks and museum objects.
Along the shore the Makassans left tamarind trees and lines of stone to enable cooking pots to boil, smoke and cure the flesh of the trepang, which was used as a delicacy in soups and considered by the Chinese an aphrodisiac. Property rights also developed in some areas as a way of determining the right to capture trepang. Ancestral coastal estates extend well out into the sea and include the near-shore, making trade history relevant to mounting legal arguments about native title. In 2008, the High Court made the Blue Mud Bay decision, granting traditional Yolngu owners exclusive native title rights to the inter-tidal zone. First Nations people once again control access to the waters of a major fishery. Indigenous art and exhibitions, such as Saltwater (1999) and Dalkiri: Standing On Their Names (2010), have helped non-Indigenous people to understand how the law codifies and maps obligations to the land, sea and sky.
The year 2020 called us to survey the 250th anniversary of the landing of James Cook and crew at Botany Bay. The significance of the Hati Marege/Heart of Arnhem Land and the prahu’s subversive overturning of the foundational narrative of Captain Cook, the Endeavour and the unilateral British land claim has not been lost: from Johnny Bulunbulun and Maningrida dancers performing in Makassar (1993) to the ongoing Makassar–Yirrkala Artist Exchange begun by Nawurapu Wunungmurra in 2015, northern Australia invites a poly-cultural future.
By the Stars, Wind & Ocean Currents provoked us to look to all the seafaring comings and goings, from the north through the straits between the islands of the archipelago, by representatives of all world civilisations. In a political region of closed borders and the parlous state of minorities, can art continue to open up new routes for dialogue?
1. A type of sailing boat originating from Malaysia and Indonesia that may be sailed with either end forward, typically having a large triangular sail and an outrigger.
2. Located at the University of Western Australia.
3. Featured in the exhibition catalogue Yirrkala Drawings (AGNSW, 2013).
4. C C Macknight, The Voyage to Marege: Macassan trepangers in northern Australia, 1976, Melbourne University Press.
5. Trepang is a common name for species of the holothuroidea (sea cucumber) class of animals.
6. Marcia Langton, Trepang: China and the story of Macassan–Aboriginal trade. Exhibition cata- logue, Museum Victoria, 2011.
By the Stars, Wind & Ocean Currents | Part I: Yolngu / Makassan Crossings at The Cross Art Projects. Installation shot.
Installation. Back wall: Bark paintings and Larrakitj by Nawurapu Wunungmurra. Foreground: Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Milnurr, 2019, natural pigments on bark, 77 x 62 cm.
Bark painting and Larrakitj by Nawurapu Wunungmurra (detail).
Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Milnurr, 2019. Natural pigments on bark, 77 x 62 cm.
L: Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Makassan Swords & Long Knives, 2019. Collograph print on Hanhemuhle paper, 53 x 78 cm. R: Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Makassan Prahu, 2016. Etching and aquatint, 40 x 40 cm (11-16-29/30).
Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Makassan Prahu, 2016. Etching and aquatint, 40 x 40 cm (11-16-29/30).
Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra, Wunupini, 2019. Natural pigments on bark, 97 x 48 cm (4681-19).
Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra, Wunupini, 2019. Natural pigments on bark, 110 x 54 cm (1885-19)
Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Yalanbara, 2019. Natural pigments on bark, 138 x 72 cm (4523-19)
L to R: Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Makassan Swords & Long Knives, 2019, 91 x 35 cm (4608-19). Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Gan'kurr, Noṉda, Nukaliya (Crrabs, Shells and Trepang), 150 x 45 cm (1438-19).
Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Swords/Serpents, 2019, 162 X 75 cm (3823-19). Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra, Wanupini, 54 x 131 cm (3316-19). Nawurapu Wunungmurra, Wanupini, 2017, 122 x 43 cm (1438-17). Nawurapu Wunungmurra, Njarrpiya Octopus at Gurrumuru, 2017, 140 x 58 cm (3364F). All natural pigments on stringybark.
L: Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra, Wunupini, 2019, 110 x 47 cm (5808-19). R: Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra, Wunupini, 2019, 127 x 37 cm (4120-19). Natural pigments on stringybark.
Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Makassan Swords & Long Knives, 2019. Natural pigments on bark, 91 x 35 cm (4608-19)
Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Gan’kurr, Nonda, Nukaliya (Crabs, shells and trepang), 2019. Natural pigments on bark, 150 x 45 cm (1438-19)
Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Swords/Serpents/Lightning, 2019. Natural pigments on bark, 162 X 75 cm (3823-19).
Barayuwa Mununggurr visit By the Stars, Wind and Ocean Currents. Barayuwa's late uncle is Nawurapu Wunungmurra.
Barayuwa Mununggurr at By the Stars, Wind and Ocean Currents with legacy works by his late uncle Nawurapu Wunungmurra.
Barayuwa Mununggurr and Whaiora Tukaki visit By the Stars, Wind and Ocean Currents. Work details Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Macassan Swords (back) and Gan’kurr, Nonda, Nukaliya (Crabs, shells and trepang), 2019.
Barayuwa Mununggurr informs Belle Blau and Freÿa Black more about legacy works by his late uncle Nawurapu Wunungmurra.
Barayuwa Mununggurr and Whaiora Tukaki with Belle Blau and Freÿa Black. Details works by Barayuwa's uncle Nawurapu Wunungmurra (dec).
Barayuwa Mununggurr and Whaiora Tukaki at By the Stars, Wind and Ocean Currents informing Belle Blau and Freÿa Black more about works by his late uncle Nawurapu Wunungmurra.
Artists biographies (ed). Courtesy Buku Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre
Dhuwarrwarr Marika (born c.1946)
Dhuwarrwarr Marika is from the Rirratjingu and Miliwurrwurr clans of Yalangbara in north-east Arnhem Land. The Marika family are highly regarded as gifted artists and able educationalists, cultural ambassadors, environmentalists, and activists. Dhuwarrwarr’s father Mawalan Marika was the Rirratjingu ceremonial leader who in 1935 welcomed anthropologist Donald Thompson and Methodist missionaries and together they founded the settlement at Yirrkala. Mawalan worked with Europeans but never lost his respect for Makassans and stressed the importance of the relationship between Yolnu and these allies. Mawalan and his brothers were involved in the historic Gove Land Rights Case that led to the passing of the first land rights legislation in Australia.
Dhuwarrwarr Marika continues this work in education, on committees and as an executive member and women’s council representative for the Northern Land Council. Dhuwarrwarr Marika is the first Yolnu woman authorised to paint sacred designs on her own. She has participated in group shows since the late 1980s and is represented in most Australian state galleries. In 2010 the National Museum of Australia presented Yalangbara: Art of the Djang’kawu an exhibition of artworks by the Marika family exploring the journey of the Djang’kawu ancestors.
She says: I’m teaching my brother’s children for all the painting as well as my children. I used to ask them to come and watch me. I use my own colours from the shore - the yellow and the red, just a rock, and the black, bayanu (not) charcoal. Like my brother (Wandjuk), I sometimes mix yellow and black to make green. I used to go and get it in a bucket and mash it up and leave it in the sun to dry.”
Bulthirrirri is an emerging artist and the niece of great painter and sculptor Nawurapu Wunungmurra (dec). Under the guidance of her grandfather (recently deceased) Bulthirrirri is following and maintain her family’s rich heritage through her own hand.
Nawurapu Wunungmurra b. 1952 – 2018
Nawurapu Wunungmurra was the eldest son of the late Yangarriny Wunungmurra, the 1997 Telstra National Aboriginal and Islander Art Award overall First Prize winner. Yangarriny was one of the artists of the legendary Yirrkala Church Panels. He had been trained in the school of this old man (who was the first Aboriginal artist to have his copyright recognised in an Australian court) from an early age, at first assisting his father and then in his own right. On his father’s passing Nawurapu stepped into his role as a senior Yirritja moiety elder with his brothers. His ceremonial responsibilities required him to move between the homeland centres of the Miwatj region, North East Arnhem land and even beyond into Central Arnhem land. He lived at Yirrkala, Gurrumurru, Gangan, Gapuwiak and Wandawuy in his later years.
Nawurapu participated in all the major Yirrkala exhibitions in the 1990s and held his first solo show at Sydney’s Grant Pirrie Gallery in 2004. He became renowned in the contemporary artworld for his sculptural installations of mokuy (Yolngu spirit figures), the first set being purchased by the Queensland Art Gallery in 2008 followed by Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. His major contemporary exhibitions include Contemporary Australia: Optimism Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (Curatorial Manager: Julie Ewington 2008) and the third Moscow Biennale in 2009. In 2010 Nawurapu won the inaugural Telstra New Media prize with a set of film illuminated mokuy carvings at the 27th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. His bronze mokuy figures are also installed at the heart of Darwin’s Waterfront by the Northern Territory Government.
Source: Will Stubbs, “Nawurapu Wunungmurra: Tribute,” Artlink, March 21, 2018. https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/4664/nawurapu-wunuC58Bmurra/
Thanks to Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre (Will Stubbs, Dave Wickens Andrew Blake); Yirrkala Print Space (Ruth Pearson); at The Cross Art Projects Freÿa Black, Belle Blau, Simon Blau, Susan Gilligan, Jo Holder. Special thanks to Professor Elaine Baker, Dr C.C. Macknight, Stan Floreck (Australian Museum, Pacific Collections) and at Sydney University Jane Johnston and Dr Catriona Moore.
Marshall Clark and Sally K. May eds., Macassan History and Heritage Journeys, Encounters and Influences, Australian National University e-Press 2013. Includes Charles Campbell Macknight, “Studying trepangers”, 19-40.
Matthew Flinders, William Westall and Robert Brown. A Voyage to Terra Australis: Undertaken for the Purpose of Completing the Discovery of That Vast Country, and Prosecuted in the Years 1801, 1802, and 1803, in His Majesty’s Ship the Investigator. London: G. and W. Nicol, 1840.
Regina Ganter, Julia Martinez and Gary Mura Lee. Mixed Relations: Asian/Aboriginal contact in north Australia. Perth, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 2003, 2005 & 2006. Gantner’s work inspired other scholars including Peta Stephenson and Marcia Langton. Regina Gantner, ‘Muslim Histories of Australia’, La Trobe Journal, 2012, no 89.
Murray Garde, ‘The Marayarr Murrkundja Ceremony Goes to Makassar’, 1993, Barwinanga Aboriginal Corporation, Maningrida, NT.
Marcia Langton, A. Duschatzky and S. Holt eds., Trepang: China and the story of Macassan–Aboriginal trade, 2011, Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, Museum Victoria.
Charles Campbell Macknight, Voyage to Marege. Macassan Trepangers in Northern Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1976.
Peta Stephenson, The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia’s Indigenous-Asian Story, 2007, UNSW Press.
Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation, Wurrwurrwuy - Garanhan (Macassan Beach) stone pictures. At
1988: The long distance prahu Hati Marege commissioned by Peter Spillett for Australia’s Bicentennial sails from Makassar to northern Australia, now in Maritime Museum Darwin. 1993: An exchange between Maningrida Arts and Culture and Ramingining began when Johnny Bulunbulun (1946-2010) and Ramingining Dancers performed the 3-day Marayarr Murrukundja ceremony, documented in Djomi Museum, Maningrida. Works from Bulunbulun’s series are in the National Maritime Museum, Sydney and Balla Lompoa Museum. 2011: exhibition by Bulunbulun with Zhou Xiaoping (China/Aus) at Museum Victoria. 2015: Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre Makassan / Yolngu history exchange project; to date projects include Nawurapu Wunungmurra's visit to Makassar (2015) and collaborative batik with makers from Pekalongan, Central Java (presented to the Textile Museum in Jakarta in 2017); a ceramics exchange and an exhibition by three Yolngu and three Makassan artists.
The trepang fishers came from different maritime trade islands but are all commonly labelled ‘Macassans’. (Language groups identified by Fox and Sen 2002). The financial backers of the voyages, who remained behind in Makassar, might be Chinese, Dutch or Malay. In most cases the captain was Makassar or Bugis. The Makassan word teripang also beche-de-mer or edible sea cucumber is an echinoderm of the class Holothuroidea containing more than 1000 species. These marine animals live predominantly in tropical waters. About 500 Makassan words are still in use: examples include rupiah, jama or work, and balanda or white person.
Links & Downloads
Trading Cultures: A documentary - https://australiaindonesia.com/culture/trading-cultures-a-documentary/
Podcast about The Yolngu/Macassan relationship, Tom Murray, Sunday 5 November 2000 - https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/hindsight/trepang-trade/3482266
Wurrwurrwuy - Garanhan (Macassan Beach) stone pictures. Courtesy Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.
Makassan prahus sailed “Malay Roads” before the European “discovery” of Australia. At the onset of the northwest winds (December) fleets left Makassar in South Sulawesi and made landfall on Marege to reach trepang harvest sites the along the northern Australian coastline. By 1650 this coast was reliably charted and prahus with multi-cultural crews (Makassarese, Butonese, Bugis, Bajau, Madurese and ‘Koepangers’ from Timor) sailed its length — all lands and waters owned and occupied by Aboriginal nations. This ABC TV news footage honours the cultural and economic exchange. 3 February 2020..