"This story belongs only to the Djapu’ people. It is the story painted by my father, Woŋgu, and it tells the story of Wäṉḏawuy, the ancestral lands of the Djapu’ people. My father was the keeper of the section of the Wäṉḏawuy river called Gapu-Marawiyin. He held authority over that water, so that he could pass it onto us, to me and all of my brothers who have died. Each stroke on the bark will tell you of that place. You will see it in our paintings. This place belongs only to us and nobody else. It is this Country from which we come, and this is the story that is hidden here."
– WÄKA MUNUŊGURR
This work was painted in September 1942 by Woŋgu Munuŋgurr and his three eldest sons at the base camp of the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit (NTSRU) of the Australian Army at Garthalala. The NTSRU was founded by Woŋgu and Donald Thomson as part of efforts to repel a possible Japanese invasion from the north. The painting depicts, Bol’ŋu, the Thunderman, shown three times causing the rain to fall when he hits the clouds with his baḻatj (club). Fifty years later, Woŋgu's granddaughters Marrnyula and Rerrkirrwaŋga Munuŋgurr would collaborate on a similarly monumental depiction of Bol'ŋu with their mother Noŋgirrŋa Marawali for the 1996 John W. Kluge Yirrkala commission.
– Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection
Natural pigments on eucalyptus bark
74 9/16 x 41 7/16
189.4 x 105.2
Donald Thomson Collection, University of Melbourne. DT66
About The Artist(s)
Ongoo, Wonga, Wongo, Wongu
Woŋgu Munuŋgurr was the Djapu’ leader and statesman who navigated the most challenging moment of cross-cultural relations for Yolŋu in the twentieth century. Following the Caledon Bay crisis, he negotiated a peace treaty with Donald Thomson and, in 1935, initiated the practice of painting on bark for cross-cultural exchange in northeast Arnhem Land. With Thomson, he convened the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit to protect Arnhem Land from Japanese invasion during World War II. He had more than twenty wives and at least sixty children.
Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Virginia
University of Melbourne
Maama, Malma, Mama
Mauwunboi, Mawunboi, Mawunpuy