About the Saltwater collection

Baru painting

Bäru at Yathikpa by Nuwandjali Marawili, Moiety: Yirritja, Clan: Madarrpa (118cmx47cm)

This is a classic Madarrpa painting of Bäru the ancestral crocodile in the saltwaters of Yathikpa. 2

Yolŋu artists have produced a collection of 80 bark paintings that share their sacred knowledge of sea country.

The idea for the saltwater barks was sparked in 1996 by the illegal intrusion of a barramundi fishing party at Garrangali, sacred home of Bäru the Ancestral Crocodile. The fishing party had not obtained permission to go to this special place and had further offended by leaving rubbish lying around. But the thing which upset Yolŋu custodians most of all was the discovery of the severed head of a crocodile, left to rot in a hessian bag.

"The Balanda (European) response to such a discovery might well have been violent. With inherent restraint, the Yolŋu reaction was generous. They would use their sacred art to explain to outsiders the meaning and lore that underpinned their society: they would paint their sacred stories to share with the outside world, so it could understand the magnitude of such desecration." [1]

The Saltwater paintings are now part of the Australian National Maritime Museum collection and have toured nationally. They stand as significant works of art in their own right, but also provide a valuable comparison between sacred Indigenous knowledge and western scientific principles, providing an ideal platform to promote understanding and cooperation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.




1. Saltwater: Yirrkala Bark Paintings of Sea Country, 1999: inside cover
2. Ibid, p98