This bark painting by Wandjuk Marika was made in 1982. It depicts the Djan’kawu giving birth to the first Australian clans at Yalangbara in Eastern Arnhem Land.
In the top section the brother stands with his digging sticks, which were later transformed into casuarina trees. The central panel describes the birth of the clans and the lower panel presents the birth schematically, with the dotted shapes representing the afterbirths and the circular forms the children. The fine rarrk or crosshatched pattern in the background represents the shifting sands on the beach at Yalangbara.
For Aboriginal artists images like these of ancestor figures and the narratives associated with them, refer both to the distant past of the Dreamtime and to the present laws and ceremonies that govern everyday life today.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
First I learnt to paint when I was a young man from my father, Mawalan, when he take me through the bush, teaching me where to go, where to find, what to hunt and the special places. Then I learnt Yolngu writing, my own designs, drawing onto the rock or on the sand and then putting in the hatching. I started on bark when I was about 15 years of age.
Wandjuk Marika was one of the great Yolngu artists, statesmen and advocates for the rights of Indigenous artists. The eldest son of Mawalan Marika, Wandjuk mediated with missionaries, anthropologists, government officials and mining companies. He was involved in the painting of the Yirrkala Church Panels and the Bark Petition presented to the Australian Government in 1963. Wandjuk was appointed a founding member of the Australia Council and to the Aboriginal Arts Board in 1973. In 1979 he was awarded an OBE for services to the arts. Wandjuk became ‘one of Australia’s great Indigenous cultural ambassadors’.
The painting shows the Djang’kawu giving birth to the Dhuwa clans. In the upper part of the painting the Brother holds two sacred digging sticks that are transformed into casuarina trees. Below, his two Sisters are depicted giving birth to the clan members—the black figures are males, the others females. In the lower panel the Sisters are shown with the afterbirths, and the woven conical mats that are used to protect newborn babies. The background pattern represents land, but is also suggestive of the pains of birthing.
 M West (ed), Yalangbara, art of the Djang’kawu, Charles Darwin University Press, Darwin, 2008, pp 171–72.
 Order of the British Empire.
 West, 2008, as above, p 171.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010