This seemingly abstract painting tells the story of an old spirit man, one of the Wati kutjarra (Two Men) of Kukatja/Wangkajunga mythology. The old man’s story begins in the lower right, the red-ochre section that indicates wala (desert), where he was dying in country ravaged by drought. This desert section is hemmed in on two sides by white expanses representing yari (milky water billabongs) where the old man bent to drink to excess. Then, finding that the water was poisonous, he retreated to light a fire, shown in blackened rectangle in the upper left that represents junpa (charcoal fire). The fire raged out of control and the old man, unable to escape from the force of the flames, was burnt to death. At this point in the landscape, the old man’s spirit entered into and became the land. The vertical black bar represents the old man’s club and invokes his eternal presence in this country. The long white shape indicates reeds on the bank of the milky billabongs.

Text by Judith Ryan © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia


  • Title: Yari country
  • Creator: Rover Thomas (Joolama)
  • Date Created: 1989
  • Location Created: "Warmun, Western Australia", Australia
  • Physical Dimensions: 160.0 x 200.2 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Pacific Dunlop National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Limited, Fellow, 1990, =A9 National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: earth pigments and natural binder on canvas
  • Place Part Of: Australia

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps