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 garners the notion of reciprocity inherent in the term ‘exchange’ or trade between the monsoon coast of northern Australia and the great Indonesian archipelago. We are invited to share the journey. The ‘open archipelago’ has passed from living memory but memories of extended families as well as grave sites, rock art, rock pictures (the Heritage Place known as Wurrwurrwuy stone pictures) and ceremonies survive. For example, in the late 1940s Dhuwarrrwarr Marika's father Mawalan Marika painted, sketched, mapped and narrated Makassan and Yolngu encounters in northeast Arnhem Land and spoke some Makassan language.
The exhibition By the Stars, Wind & Ocean Currents presents powerful bark paintings, larrakitj, prints and works on paper by the following generations of artists: Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Nawurapu Wunungmurra and Nawurapu's granddaughter Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra (in her debut exhibition), who draw upon this fascinating counter-history. This is the first in a series of exhibitions by contemporary artist networks in the region to be held during 2020 that present a complex narrative involving many world civilizations that defies the singular 'discovered by Captain Cook' story.
To some, including academic Regina Gantner, “The telling of the Macassan stories has become an act of resistance. It refuses to allow a government decision to sever the link to Macassar, Timor and Sama Bajo places.” Other scholars working in anthropology and archaeology and curators of a few museum exhibitions and permanent exhibits keep the flame burning. The standout museum exhibit is historian Peter Spillett’s epic counterpoint to the Bicentennial of British annexation in 1988: a reconstructed prahu named Hati Marege / Heart of Arnhem Land that voyaged from Makassar and made landfall at Galiwin’ku and Yirrkala. (Collection Maritime Museum, Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory.) Spillett also worked with Yolngu to document and re-connect family lines across the archipelago.
In 1947, senior ceremonial leaders at Yirrkala created hundreds of vibrant crayon drawings compiled by anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt, now at the Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia. Dhuwarrwarr Marika draws inspiration from her father Mawalan Marika's work entitled Macassan swords and long knives (1947) a work featured in the exhibition catalogue and document Yirrkala Drawings (AGNSW, 2013). Swords and long-knives can be seen as symbols of the relationship that Yolngu shared with the seafaring Makassans. The Berndt's write that Yolngu adopted the swords and knives with names differentiating each type. In the 1960s, Mawalan Marika guided pre-historian Campbell Macknight to the stone pictures site where Macknight notes Yolngu names for each part of a prahu. Macknight's doctoral research is published as the "classic work", The Voyage to Marege: Macassan trepangers in northern Australia (1976). 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 exchange project called Trading Places. Artist and senior law man Nawurapu Wunungmurra traveled to Makassar in 2015 and two years later presented his batik, a collaboration with batik artisans from Pekalongan in Central Java, to the Textile Museum in Jakarta. In this exhibition Nawurapu 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.
By the Stars, Wind & Ocean Currents speaks to a different way of thinking about historical time and how this impacts on an entire outlook of life. Will Stubbs of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre writes: 'In Yolngu grammar, the wind blew/blows/will blow concurrently in a temporal dimension that encompasses prehistory/the present/the unknown future. We don't have this declension in English. All the events of sacred narrative take place in this 'everywhen', which Western thought does not readily embrace. .. In these five memorial poles, the wind disturbs the water, imbued with the apocalyptic tragedy of this ancient and future tsunami, into zigzag chop.' (Contemporary Australia: Optimism, Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, exhibition catalogue, 2008.)
Other works by Nawurapu and his granddaughter Bulthirrirri Wunungmurra feature versions of triangular cloud designs (which are shared by all Yirritja clans and relate to the water cycle of souls going from ocean to vapour to cloud to freshwater rain rebirth) and in this context they speak of massive cumulo-nimbus thunderheads decorated with the blacks of storm, the yellow of the sun's rays and the red of the sunset. Yolngu sacred songs tell of the first rising clouds on the horizons. They also signal the time for sighting the sails of Macassan prahu. The return of Macassan trepangers with Bulunu (the S.E winds of the early dry season) is correlated with the grief at the passing from life of a death in the clan. The return of the Macassans with Lungurrma (the Northerly Monsoon winds of the approaching Wet) is an analogue of the rebirth of the spirit following appropriate mortuary ritual.
With the Northerly Monsoon winds, a fleet of 50 or more perahu left Makassar. After ten or so days they made landfall on Marege the coastline and small islands from Melville Island to Arnhem Land and down into Yanyuwa traditional country in the Gulf of Carpentaria or further to Mornington and Beswick Islands—a distance of over 1000kms. Or they turned towards Kayu Jawa (the Kimberley). Many say the Kimberley was sailed before Marege. All are lands and waters occupied by Aboriginal nations. Trepang fishers returned home again via Timor with the winds and current.
These dynamic sea passages were sailed by expert captains on prahu with culturally diverse 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. Makassan and Malay influences live on in language, ceremonies, songs, dances and art works and museum objects. It was only a generation ago that Yolngu traveled the deeper coastal waters in dugout canoes often rigged with Makassan-style woven sail. Dugout canoes reached hunting grounds beyond the range of lightweight freshwater and saltwater bark canoes.
Strategically located between the western and eastern archipelago Makassar a city in Sulawesi, was the centre of Gowa Sultanate which adopted Islam (in 1605) with its sword belts and talismanic discs and waged war on the neighbouring Bugis Kingdom and invaded Timor. The sultanate was in turn conquered by the Portuguese followed by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). There is much that is alive and open to interpretation about the trade. Dates for example differ: some cite trade beginnings using the records of the Dutch East India Company (from c. 1669); C.C. Macknight argues that "a date before 1720 is now unjustifiable". Others cite navigators Matthew Flinders and Nicholas Baudin (they met in 1802 both charting the coastline) and pre-historians opt for earlier records. Dhuwarrwarr Marika's Milnurr, 2019 (natural pigments on bark) depicts a large rock outcrop near the “Malay Road” described by Mathew Flinders.
Federation cut twentieth century Australia off from the world with licenses and increased taxes and the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) that formed the basis of the White Australia Policy and an aggressive nation state. Makassan trepangers were outlawed at the urging of missionary groups while South Australian colonists saw visions of a second Singapore: a succession of 'forts' then the ill-fated military settlement of Victoria at Port Eslington on Coburg Peninsula, immortalised by artist H.S. Melville in his etchings for Ludwig Leichhardt’s Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington…1844. The last trepang 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”. (Introduction, Trepang: China and the story of Macassan–Aboriginal trade. Exhibition catalogue, Museum Victoria, 2011.) Material items traded included dugout canoes, woven fibre sails, steel knives and other metals, hooks, fishing lines, beads and metals as well as alcohol, tobacco, cards and money (rupiah). Woven cloth, another traded item, remains important in Yolngu and Tiwi welcoming and mortuary ceremonies. Returning prahu added pearl and tortoise shell to their valuable cargo of smoked trepang.
Local communities were linked to an international trading network. Makassan pidgin became a lingua franca along the north coast, not just between Makassan and Aboriginal people, but also between different Aboriginal groups. Along the shore they left tamarind trees and lines of stone to support cooking pots to boil, smoke and cure the flesh to be used as a delicacy in a soup and considered by the Chinese an aphrodisiac. In Makassar an annual junk (sometimes two) arrived from Canton or Macau to collect tregpang and tortoise shell returning via Manila.
Trepang fishing in some areas also led to the development of property rights which determined the right to capture trepang and spend 4 to 5 months living on the lands of others and harvesting their resources. 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: Yirrkala Bark Paintings of the Sea Country (1999, collection National Maritime Museum) 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.
It is now time to survey the 250th anniversary of the landing of James Cook and crew of the Endeavour at Botany Bay. The significance of the Hati Marege / Heart of Arnhem Land and the prahu’s subversive overturning of Australia's foundational narrative 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 looks to a poly-cultural future.
By the Stars, Wind & Ocean Currents provokes 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? By the Stars, Wind & Ocean Currents grafts an ancient trade route to offer another dimension of mercantile success and cultural complexity. The past retains an inevitable trajectory towards a closer relationship despite the militarisation of borders.
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.
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
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..