Murrungun people

Australia 1930 – 1991

Barnumbirr the Morning Star [Banumbirr, the Morning Star] 1987 Place made: Maningrida, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 178.0 h x 125.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1987
Accession No: NGA 87.1546
Image rights: © Jack Wunuwun. Licensed by Viscopy
  • The essence of the cosmology of the Murrungun people is captured in the three panels of this painting. They represent the latter phases of the wet season, which stand as a metaphor for concepts of transition: from procreation and birth, through life to death and the afterlife; from the ancestral realm to physical existence on earth and back again.

    The yam plant on the right—in full bloom in the second half of the wet season (Mayaltha)—stands for Barnumbirr the Morning Star, which is kept in a dilly bag by sky-dwelling ancestors who release it each morning to herald the new day. The Star is attached to a feathered string, symbolised by the vine of the plant. The tubers that ripen at the end of the wet season (Midawar) are shown in cross-section: the white, crosshatched tubers are new growth, while the dark spotted tubers are old or rotten, reflecting life and death.

    The shape of the white tubers imitates the human form—a vertical body with limbs—as do the forms of the ceremonial poles in the centre panel. Each decorated pole is crested with a fan of feathers, and strings with feather tassels, or stars.

    The transition from life to death is implied by the woven fish-trap on the left. The trap is symbolic of a catcher of the souls. During Midawar, the rivers of Arnhem Land swell and run. Fish that had gone up-river to spawn now rush towards the coast and are caught in conical fish-traps. Ever the innovator, Wunuwun was the first Murrungun painter to depict the transparency of a fish-trap in bark painting.

    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

  • 杰克·乌那万(Jack Wunuwun)
    《启明星巴南比尔》(Barnumbirr the Morning Star)
    [巴南比尔,启明星(Banumbirr, the Morning Star)] 1987年
    178.0 (高) x 125.0 (宽)厘米
    收录号:NGA 87.1546





    Wally Caruana

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra