Australia 1914 – 1993
The Wagilag Sisters Story
[The Wagilag Sisters Story; bark painting number 5 in a group of 15 relating the Wagilag Sisters Story] 1983
Collection Title: The Wagilag Sisters Story series
Place made: Ramingining, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
Following a discussion Paddy and I had in 1983, Dhathangu embarked on a series of paintings based on the Wagilag Sisters song cycle. The series comprises 15 paintings and a didjeridu. In this, the major work in the set, Dhathangu enlisted the assistance of Dorothy Djukulul (born 1942). The two artists elaborated the conventional imagery for depicting this narrative so that the spiral of the serpent’s body is a visual pun for the circle of its waterhole home.
The two Wagilag Sisters fled to central Arnhem Land from the south-east after having committed incest with a kinsman in eastern Arnhem Land. They camped at Mirarrmina waterhole, the home of Wititj the mighty Rainbow Serpent. The sisters disturbed the ancestral python, who stood tall in the sky and created an intense storm that flooded the land, whereupon he swallowed the sisters, their children and all their possessions. Other sacred pythons rose up and questioned Wititj about what he had eaten. In the ensuing discussion they arranged the kinship system that defines Yolngu social and contractual life. Wititj admitted that he had eaten the sisters—who belonged to his own moiety and therefore taboo—became ill and fell to earth.
… These two women came to this place Mirarrmina, and these two being made a house, a humpy (round house) from paper bark, with a door here, and a fire here in the middle. The two were sleeping there. And that Wititj was sitting over there (in the water), and came around here, and he smelt them, and then he ate the sister, then the other one, baby, dog, he finished them all, his name is Wititj.
 Paddy Dhathangu, personal communication, Ramingining, 1983.
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