Australia 1923 – 1968
An attack by war canoes
[The Bickerton men find and surround a man and his five wives. He is a skillful fighter, so is able to elude them and escape] c.1955
Collection Title: From the set "An attack by war canoes"
Place made: Anindilyakwa (Groote Eylandt), Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
Bill Namiayangwa was a leader of the Wanungawurigba or flying fox clan, whose land lies in the south-west corner of Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Namiayangwa often painted historical events. This work is one of seven telling of the time when Bickerton Island men set out by canoe at night to attack the people at Groote Eylandt.
The sails on the canoes were made from tree branches, which was the custom before the Malays, who used to visit these coastlines, taught the people of the area to use rough hemp. Upon landing at Groote Eylandt, the Bickerton men lowered the sails and anchored the canoes off the coast, which is the scene depicted in this work, and went on the attack. They surrounded a man and his five wives, but the man eluded the Bickerton men and escaped (it is part of the story that any man who had five wives would have acquired such skills), returning later to throw the invaders into confusion with his well-aimed spears. Two men were killed and many wounded, and the man finally drove the Bickerton men away.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra