Murrinhpatha people

Australia 1902 /1906 – 1981

The artist's country c 1955 Place made: Wadeye (Port Keats), Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 80.5 h x 34.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1985
Accession No: NGA 85.388
Image rights: © the estate of the artist licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd
  • Nym Bandak was one of the most influential Aboriginal elders of his time, and a leading artist among the Murrinhpatha and other groups who lived in and around the community of Wadeye (Port Keats) in the Fitzmaurice River region south-west of Darwin. He is renowned for his relationship with the eminent anthropologist W E H Stanner, whom he met in 1935 when Stanner accompanied a group of Catholic missionaries to establish a station in the region. Over the course of nearly five decades, Bandak interpreted his extensive knowledge of Aboriginal culture, society and law for Stanner, allowing the latter to better understand the Aboriginal condition, belief systems, philosophies and aspirations in a changing world. Stanner, in turn, would use the knowledge and understanding he received from Bandak to influence official government policies towards Indigenous people.

    The artist’s country c 1955 features design elements that relate to those found in desert paintings—the sets of concentric circles in particular—and are evidence of the connections between the coastal peoples of the Fitzmaurice River region to the desert groups inland. The roundels are likely to represent freshwater holes and are composed formally to map out the land of Bandak’s clan, the Diminhin. The protrusions from the intersections of the large arcs are likely to refer to Ku Wandatji, the Rock Python who is considered to be among the main ancestors of the Diminhin and whose name evokes related Dreamings of significance to Murrinhpatha men.[1]

    Wally Caruana

    [1] K Barber, ‘All the world: the paintings of Nym Bandak’ in World of Dreamings nga.gov.au/Dreaming/Index.cfm?Refrnc=Ch4

    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