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Liyagalawumirr people

Ramingining, central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia born 1933 /1937

Wagilag sister (older) [Wagilag Sister] 1994 Description: female figure with crosshatching on torso, grass skirt, spots on face.
Place made: Ramingining, central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, natural earth pigments on wood with natural fibre

Dimensions: 1.60 h x 18.0 w x 16.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1995
Accession No: NGA 95.305
Image rights: © Philip Gudthaykudthay. Licensed by Viscopy

Philip Gudthaykudthay is the most senior artist from Ramingining and the last active artist from the Milingimbi school of painters. Taught by great artists, such as his father Dawidi and his uncle Djawa, Gudthaykudthay has been painting since the 1960s. His totems include Burruwara the native cat, Wititj the olive python, the water goanna and Badurru the hollow log.

The story depicted here is about the two Wagilag sisters, who came out of the southern interior to the Liyagalawumirr waterhole at Mirarrmina. There the younger sister profaned the pool of the great python by allowing her blood to fall into the waterhole. Because of this the women and the children were swallowed by the python amidst thunderstorms and rain, the first wet season. A great flood covered the land and all of the other sacred pythons stood up with their heads in the clouds and talked to each other with voices like thunder.

The Mirarrmina python confessed to eating the two women, of his own moiety, and fell to earth making a depression in the ground. A big wind blew across the land making the first dry season. The python vomited the women up but swallowed them again before going back into the waterhole.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

Philip Gudthaykudthay, the most senior artist from Ramingining, was born out bush at Mulgurrum—his mother was Ganinydja 1 of the Djardewitjibi group, the traditional custodians of the Ramingining area. After working as a stockman, fencer and crocodile hunter, Gudthaykudthay began painting in the 1960s under the tuition of his half brother, Mirritja. Gudthaykudthay is called ‘Pussycat’ as he paints the land relating to two spirit beings in the form of native female ‘cats’ (quolls). Events related to the story of the Wagilag Sisters are also frequent themes in his art practice. This epic creation narrative describes the laws of marriage, the origins of ceremonies and the coming of the first monsoon.

Because of incestuous relationships, the Wagilag Sisters flee from their home in the east. As they travel inland they name animals, plants and country, thus bringing them into being. They camp at Mirarrmina waterhole in Liyagalawumirr country, unaware it is the home of Wititj, the great Olive Python. The younger Sister profanes the pool by letting her blood fall into the water. Angered, Wititj sucks up the waters and rears up into the sky, spitting to form the rain clouds of the first monsoon. The Sisters perform songs and dances to avert the deluge, but Wititj descends and swallows them and their children. As he raises himself again, floodwaters cover the earth. Realising he has transgressed by swallowing women of his own moiety, Wititj crashes down. He creates a strong wind that dries the flood; and he regurgitates the Sisters who become two large boulders at Mirarrmina.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014