Hollow log burial pole

Yanggarriny Wunungmurra2002

Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT)

Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT)

The larrakitj, hollow log, was traditionally used in north-east Arnhem Land to house the bones of a deceased person as part of secondary burial after the body was exposed on a raised platform. Since the influence of Christianity, people here are buried in coffins. The miny'tji or sacred clan designs on the log belong to the artist's Dhalwangu clan estates at Gangan, the site of the great ancestral being Barama; Gupuwiyak, the region through which the Gangan waters pass; and the coastal flood plain of Baraltja. These regions are symbolised by the lozenge clan patterns that also represent the fresh water contaminated by silts stirred up from the bottom of waterholes, and by the salt water running in on the tides from Blue Mud Bay. The top panel depicts the freshwater at Gangan (the diamond designs). This is the place that Barama emerged from the water. He is represented by Minhala, the long-necked tortoise. Also depicted are Baypinga, the saratoga fish, and Wurran, the cormorant or darter bird. Close to Wurran's path is a line of dots representing the bubbles or the ancestral life force of Barama as he emerged from the water. These formed watermarks on his body and became the sacred designs of the Dhalwangu. Waterweeds hung from his arms, manifest as sacred feather-tasselled armbands. As the originator of Dhalwangu lore, Barama is considered to be the most powerful of the Yirritja creator beings. With Galparimun and Lany'tjung and other old mythical men, Barama organised for Galparimun to travel south to Rose River and Numbulwar, and for Lany'tjung to travel north towards Yirrkala and then west to Milingimbi to distribute Barama's sacred objects and paintings to all the Yirritja groups. The next panel shows Barama with his sacred staff. The watercourse below this point becomes polluted with silt and this is reflected in the change in the diamond pattern shapes. The water flow slows as it reaches the coast and spreads out into the floodplain at Baraltja. In this area, creeks stagnate behind the beach dunes in the dry season. The tidal surges make the water brackish. Mundukul the Lightning Snake lives here and becomes active in the wet season. On tasting the fresh water from Gangan, Mundukul stands on its tail to herald the oncoming wet season by spitting lightning into the sky. Through this action he communicates with the associated clan groups – Madarrpa and Manggalili – who share aspects of this mythology. The sacred waters of the Dhalwangu contain the ancestral life force. Baraltja is special because it's the place where the fresh waters of Gangan first mix with the seawater of the opposite moiety. In a spiritual sense this represents birth as well as death. A Dhalwangu man may dream of Baraltja and his wife may become pregnant. Conversely a mortuary ceremony will culminate with enactments of Mundukul at Baraltja to ensure the deceased's soul will return there to be reborn. The bottom panel depicts elliptical designs of salt water, the diamond designs of fresh water and the intertwining of the two represents brackish water – the outflow of water from Baraltja into the open areas of Blue Mud Bay.—Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre © Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory


  • Title: Hollow log burial pole
  • Creator: Yanggarriny Wunungmurra
  • Creator Lifespan: 1932 2003 - 2003
  • Creator Nationality: Australian
  • Date: 2002
  • Type: Three-Dimensional Work
  • Rights: Purchased 2002, Telstra Collection, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory © licensed by Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre
  • Medium: natural pigments on wood
  • Geographical Region of Artist: Gangan (near Yirrkala), North-east Arnhem Land
  • Exhibition: 19th Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award 2002
  • Ethnic Language Group: Dhay'yi
  • Dimensions: 320 x 25 cm
  • Collection: Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art
  • Artist Ethnicity: Aboriginal

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