Organized by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

Munḏukul Marawili | Ancestral Snake and Fish Trap Story

Munḏukul Marawili

Ancestral Snake and Fish Trap Story, 1942

Mundukuḻ ga Yirwarra Dhäwu




Burrut’tji | Lightning Snakes

"Rannga Mundukul. If asked this name the old man would not pronounce it but said: "wai'yin" – ie. the animal (his own totem, the name of which he bears). Barna – forks of yirwarra, represents fork of yirwarra (fish fence). . . . Above at wanga Baraltja."

– DONALD THOMSON, September 17, 1942

More Info

Baraltja is the home of the Lightning Snake Burrut’tji (also known as Mundukuḻ). It is an important floodplain that drains into Blue Mud Bay. It is considered to belong to the Maḏarrpa clan, but because one source of its waters is the Dhaḻwaŋu clan estates of Gäṉgaṉ, Baraltja is associated with fertility, the mixing of waters, and the special relationship between these two clans.

The flushing of freshwater excites Burrut’tji to stand on its tail and spit lightning to the clouds, communicating with other lightning serpents at Gäṉgäṉ, as well as at the Munyuku estate of Mayawunydji and the Maŋgalili estate of Milŋuya.

This work was painted for Donald Thomson in September 1942, at the base camp of the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit which was formed to protect the northern coast from Japanese invasion. Mundukuḻ was the most senior Yirritja artist present at the camp. In this work, he recreates the sacred designs painted on the bodies of participants during ceremony. Bands at the top and bottom of the painting indicate where these designs would continue over the shoulders and down the legs of participants.

– Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

Additional Information




Natural pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions (IN)

69 x 40 5/8

Dimensions (CM)

175.3 x 103.3


Donald Thomson Collection, University of Melbourne, DT64.



Maḏarrpa is a Yirritja moiety clan. Major spiritual themes include Bäru, a Maḏarrpa ancestor who...

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Burrut’tji | Lightning Snakes

Burrut’tji is the name for Lightning Snakes. There are several Lightning Snakes, belonging to different...

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The onset of World War II spurs the formation of the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance...

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About The Artist(s)



Artist Dates


Alternative Names

Mudugul, Mundugrul

Munḏukul Marawili

Munḏukul Marawili was a renowned warrior of the Maḏarrpa clan with numerous wives of the Marrakulu, Dhuḏi-Djapu’ and Gälpu clans. He is the father of the artist Noŋgirrŋa Marawili and the elder brother of Wakuthi Marawili. Mundukuḻ was the most senior Yirritja man to paint for Donald Thomson in 1942.