Australia 1924 – 1987
[Bark painting: "Crocodile Dreaming", depicting a large crocodile, one half of whose body is crosshatched, the other chequered] c.1979
Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
Bardkadubbu painted the image of this crocodile numerous times in his painting career. The estuarine crocodile or Namanjwarre is known as the protector of the sacred objects of the Mardayin ceremony among Kuninjku language speakers in western Arnhem Land. Bardkadubbu painted this imagery as a way of expressing his knowledgeable status and indicating to others the power of the subject. The dancing figures in the image reiterate its connection with ceremony while Namanjwarre devours the ceremonial transgressors.
Bardkadubbu’s traditional lands of the Born clan lie adjacent to the Liverpool River mouth and this country is known for its abundance of this dangerous species. Bardkadubbu was taught to paint this subject by another famous Kuninjku artist of the Born clan, Yirawala, who painted the ancestral Crocodile in a similarly lively way. Both artists lived together for a time with the creation of the Table Hill and Marrkolidjban outstations in the early 1970s, and Bardkadubbu later moved to live at Namokardabu.
The innovative treatment of the infill of the figure in this painting suggests the massive scales on the back of the crocodile at the same time as creating contrasting forms and colours that enliven the being. Mardayin objects are decorated with bright patterns of crosshatching and dotted lines that indicate the enduring energies of the ancestral beings that created the objects. Bardkadubbu uses similar techniques to capture Namanjwarre’s sparkling creative energy, while the massive twisting body form and sharp-toothed jaws convey its power and danger.
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