Organized by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

Mithinari Gurruwiwi | File Snakes (Acrochordus javanicus)

Mithinari Gurruwiwi

File Snakes (Acrochordus javanicus), c.1960




"While the children splashed around the pond, the mother, Witij, the rainbow serpent, covered them with rainbows. As they were swimming, there came a djaykuŋ’ (Acrochordus javanicus, file snake). She became the Wirrpaŋu, and the thunder rumbling sound made her come to the pond. When she came, the mother and her children killed the djaykuŋ’, along with my waku’s (child's) totem minhala (the long-necked tortoise) and the waterlily roots."


More Info

Mithinari Gurruwiwi was an exceptional and prolific artist from the Blue Mud Bay area of north-east Arnhem Land. Born in 1929, Gurruwiwi was taught to paint by Mawalan Marika and his works predominantly refer to the Gälpu clan’s lands around Caledon Bay and Garrimala, further inland. Gurruwiwi’s works offer a seamless combination of figurative elements and abstract clan designs. His exquisite infilling techniques of delicate dots, fine lines and intricate cross-hatching, contrasted with bold areas of pure color, enliven his works. This is especially evident in this work, one of the finest bark paintings in the Art Gallery of New South Wales' collection. Completed when Gurruwiwi was only thirty, the work depicts waterlily-covered billabongs that are home to plump file snakes, valued food sources that are just part of the riches to be found in Gälpu country.

– Howard Morphy

Additional Information




Natural pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions (IN)

110 ¼ x 27 1/2

Dimensions (CM)

280 x 70


Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Gift of Prof. Harry Messell, 1987. 392.1987



The Gälpu clan belongs to the Dhuwa moiety. Major spiritual themes include Wititj and Bol’ŋu....

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The 1960s were a decade of tumult and triumph for Yolŋu art and artists. In...

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About The Artist(s)



Artist Dates


Alternative Names

Midinari, Midhinarri, Mitinari

Mithinari Gurruwiwi

Mithinari Gurruwiwi was taught to paint by Mawalan Marika and became one of the most original and distinctive artists of the 1960s. He contributed to the Dhuwa side of the Yirrkala Church Panels.

Collections Represented

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Art Gallery of Western Australia

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Grey Art Gallery, New York University

Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia

National Gallery of Australia

National Gallery of Victoria

National Museum of Australia

Newcastle Art Gallery

Queensland Art Gallery

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery