Djambuwal (Thunderman) story

Wonggo Mununggurr1942

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria
Carlton, Australia

This is one of the earliest documented examples of a collaborative work undertaken by indigenous artists. Tthe Djapu leader Wonggu painted it with three of his oldest sons in September 1942 at the base camp of the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit (NTSRU) at Garrthalala in eastern Arnhem Land. Working in a clockwise direction from the top left, the sections were painted by Wonggu, Natjiyalma, Mawunpuy and Maama respectively; and these young men were all members of the NTSRU in Section 3 led by Natjiyalma. The work is also unique in that it was the only painting documented in its creation by collector Donald Thomson during that time. The major motif in this work is a grid pattern that represents mangan or monsoonal clouds. Each square is infilled with cross-hatching with those having more concentrated patterning being 'heavy clouds' while others depict those that are 'finished' having released all their rain. This is a distinct Djapu minytji and sits in stark contrast to the triangular motif used by Yirritja clans to similarly represent these storm clouds. The minytji relates to the story of the wangarr called Djambawal, also known as the Thunderman. He appears in three sections of this work surrounded by dotted areas. These are rain that Djambawal causes to fall when he strikes the mangan with his baladj or fighting club. In the bottom right here his baladj can be clearly seen beneath an image of Djambawal and heavy rain clouds.

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  • Title: Djambuwal (Thunderman) story
  • Creator: Wonggo Mununggurr
  • Date Created: 1942
  • Physical Dimensions: w1052 x h1894 x d15 mm
  • Type: Object
  • Rights: Artist Wonggo Mununggurr. The Donald Thomson Collection. Donated by Mrs. Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museum Victoria.
  • Medium: Natural pigments on bark
  • Subject: Aboriginal art
  • Artist Information: Wonggu Mununggurr is a legendary figure in the history of Arnhem Land and he features in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. His extraordinary gift as a painter is perhaps less well known, and his earliest known work is the bark painting he produced for anthropologist, Donald Thomson, within days of their historic meeting at Trial Bay in northeastern Arnhem Land in July 1935. This would be the first of some seventy bark paintings that Donald Thomson would have painted for him in Arnhem Land. In 1936 and 1942 Wonggu produced a number of significant paintings depicting Macassan praus, the Indonesian fishing boats that came annually to Australia’s northern waters in pursuit of trepang, a sea cucumber. These ‘Macassan’ paintings relate also to Munyuku clan estates in the sea in Blue Mud Bay that belong to Wonggu’s mother’s clan. However Djambuwal (Thunderman) story, 1942 is the most significant and iconic painting for the Djapu clan, and it was a collaborative work with his sons, Maama, Mawunpuy and Natjiyalma. These works are in the Donald Thomson Collection held by Museum Victoria on long term loan from the University of Melbourne. Wonggu was a member of the Djapu clan, Dhuwa moiety, of eastern Arnhem Land. He lived most of his life in the bush around Blue Mud Bay, and when a mission was established at Yirrkala in 1936, he would spend periods of time camped there with his large family. Wonggu had 26 wives and many children, and founded a dynasty of Djapu artists that continues to the present day. Wonggu painted a significant number of works that were sold through the mission at Yirrkala, particularly during the era of the Revd Wilbur Chaseling. Those works that came into the mission to be sold were dispersed to the collections of Museum Victoria, the Australian Museum, Queensland Museum and the Anthropology Museum at the University of Queensland. The works that Wonggu painted for anthropologist, Ronald Berndt in 1947 can be found in the collections of the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney.
  • Artist: Wonggo Mununggurr