Warlugulong is the Anmatyerr name for a site 200 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs where, in ancestral times, Lungkata the Blue-Tongue Lizard Man created the first great bushfire. The main significance of this Dreaming or Tjukurrpa lies in the fact that it connects a number of language groups across the western deserts, and it is one of the most important for the artist’s Anmatyerr people. The painting is one of five large canvases Clifford PossumTjapaltjarri produced from 1976 to 1979 to map his ancestral lands and their Tjukurrpa in a way that integrated the sacred diagrams of ceremonial ground paintings and the topographical conventions of European maps. Tjapaltjarri’s templates for this magnum opus are also in the national collection: Bushfire I and Bushfire II both painted in 1972.
Warlugulong1977, however, is a palimpsest of nine distinct Dreamings. The main subject of the painting is Lungkata’s punishment of his two sons who did not share their catch of kangaroo with their father, as is customary. The skeletons of the two boys are depicted in the atmospheric effect of charred earth, smoke and ash on the right. The orientation of the depiction of this Tjukurrpa places the cardinal point of the east at the top edge of the painting.
The remaining Tjukurrpa paths are depicted so that the top edge points to the south. In effect, to marry the different orientations, Tjapaltjarri has turned the canvas through 90 degrees. These Dreamings include a group of women from Aileron dancing across the land, represented by their footprints in the top right running laterally across the canvas. Below these are the tracks of a large group of Emus returning to Napperby (the artist’s homeland). The footprints of the Mala or Rock Wallaby Men, travelling north from the area around present-day Port Augusta (in South Australia), can be seen in the vertical line of wallaby tracks to the left of centre. Further to the left are the tracks left by the legendary Chase of the Goanna Men. And the tracks of the Tjangala and Nungurrayi Dingoes travelling to Warrabri appear along the left edge of the painting. The footprints of a Tjungurrayi man who attempted to steal sacred objects run laterally along the lower edge towards a skeleton in the lower left, indicating the man’s fate.
A family travelling to Ngama is represented by their footprints aligned vertically in the right third of the canvas, while the tracks of Upambura the Possum Man run along the meandering white and yellow lines that provide the compositional structure of the painting.
Franchesca Cubillo and 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