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Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
Desert Painting from 1975 gallery

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Anmatyerr people

Australia 1932 – 2002

Warlugulong 1977 Papunya, Western Desert, Northern Territory, Australia
paintings, synthetic polymer paint, oil and natural earth pigments on canvas
Technique: synthetic polymer paint, oil and natural earth pigments on canvas
202.0 h x 337.5 w cm
framed (overall) 202.5 h x 338.5 w x 40.0 d mm
Purchased with the generous assistance of Roslynne Bracher and the Paspaley Family, David Coe and Michelle Coe, Charles Curran and Eva Curran, 2007
Accession No: NGA 2007.200
© the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd


  • Warlugulong is the Anmatyerr name for a site 200 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs where, in ancestral times, Lungkata the Blue-Tongue Lizard Man created the first great bushfire. The main significance of this Dreaming or Tjukurrpa lies in the fact that it connects a number of language groups across the western deserts, and it is one of the most important for the artist’s Anmatyerr people. The painting is one of five large canvases Clifford PossumTjapaltjarri produced from 1976 to 1979 to map his ancestral lands and their Tjukurrpa in a way that integrated the sacred diagrams of ceremonial ground paintings and the topographical conventions of European maps. Tjapaltjarri’s templates for this magnum opus are also in the national collection: Bushfire I and Bushfire II both painted in 1972.

    Warlugulong1977, however, is a palimpsest of nine distinct Dreamings. The main subject of the painting is Lungkata’s punishment of his two sons who did not share their catch of kangaroo with their father, as is customary. The skeletons of the two boys are depicted in the atmospheric effect of charred earth, smoke and ash on the right. The orientation of the depiction of this Tjukurrpa places the cardinal point of the east at the top edge of the painting.

    The remaining Tjukurrpa paths are depicted so that the top edge points to the south. In effect, to marry the different orientations, Tjapaltjarri has turned the canvas through 90 degrees. These Dreamings include a group of women from Aileron dancing across the land, represented by their footprints in the top right running laterally across the canvas. Below these are the tracks of a large group of Emus returning to Napperby (the artist’s homeland). The footprints of the Mala or Rock Wallaby Men, travelling north from the area around present-day Port Augusta (in South Australia), can be seen in the vertical line of wallaby tracks to the left of centre. Further to the left are the tracks left by the legendary Chase of the Goanna Men. And the tracks of the Tjangala and Nungurrayi Dingoes travelling to Warrabri appear along the left edge of the painting. The footprints of a Tjungurrayi man who attempted to steal sacred objects run laterally along the lower edge towards a skeleton in the lower left, indicating the man’s fate.

    A family travelling to Ngama is represented by their footprints aligned vertically in the right third of the canvas, while the tracks of Upambura the Possum Man run along the meandering white and yellow lines that provide the compositional structure of the painting.

    Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana

    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

  • A founding member of Papunya Tula Artists, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri was one of the most important artists of the movement, and was among its earliest and most innovative practitioners. Warlugulong is the artist’s most significant work and arguably the most important Indigenous work in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection.

    From 1977 to 1979, Tjapaltjarri made the first attempt by a Western Desert artist to move from smaller boards to majestic canvases, of which Warlugulong is the most significant. This achievement was highly conceptual and led other Papunya Tula artists onto grander scales in their work.

    Tjapaltjarri’s first templates for the five large paintings were made on small boards in 1972. Entitled Bush-fire I and Bush-fire II, these are both held by the National Gallery of Australia.

    Warlugulong is an epic painting, encyclopedic in content and ambition, and it can be read from a number of perspectives, depending on the aspect of the particular Dreaming, or Tjukurrpa, being considered. The canvas contains the essence of five major Tjukurrpa. The main one, Warlugulong (or Bushfire Dreaming), depicts how the ancestral fire began.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008