Lot 30
  • 30

Mawalan Marika circa 1908 - 1967 THE MILKY WAY

20,000 - 30,000 AUD
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  • Mawalan Marika
  • bears Dorothy Bennett label on the reverse (distressed)
  • natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

  • 177.5CM BY 63.5CM


Painted at Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land circa 1965
Dorothy Bennett, Australian Aboriginal Art Trust, Darwin
Corporate collection


The bark is attached with glue to a rectangular box frame on the reverse. There are many areas of the white pigment which are unstable, or have worn away, though the vast majority of pigments are in a good and stable condition. In our opinion the painting should be inspected and treated by a professional bark conservator in the near future.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Cf. For related examples by Mawalan Marika, see The Milky Way, 1960s, in L. A. Allen, Time Before Morning: Art and Myth of the Australian Aborigines, Rigby Australia, 1976, illus. p.103, and Mawalan Marika, The Story of the Milky Way, c.1966, in John Rudder, An Introduction to North East Arnhem Land Bark Paintings, Restoration House, 1999.

Mawalan Marika belonged to the Rirratjingu clan and was the senior ceremonial and community leader, and artist, of the Dhuwa moiety clans of the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. He was also the head of an artistic dynasty that included his brother Mathaman, his son Wandjuk, daughter Banduk, and his brother-in-law Munggarrawuy Yunupingu, all renowned artists.

Mawalan was strongly protective of traditional culture and way of life, particularly at the onset of European presence and influences. He was instrumental in several historic negotiations between the Yolngu and the wider community, the academic and art worlds, government and business. In the early 1960s Mawalan was one of the signatories of the famous Bark Petitions presented to Federal Parliament, and was the leading Dhuwa moiety artist in the painting of the Yirrkala Church Panels. From the 1940s on Mawalan assisted the great Australian anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt with their research into Yolngu culture and society. In the late 1950s he was commissioned by Tony Tuckson and Stuart Scougall to make large bark paintings destined for the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Bark paintings on a large scale by Mawalan are in fact rare and most are held in public collections.

To many northern Aboriginal peoples the Milky Way is regarded as a river in the night sky, teeming with fish and other creatures. The origins of the creation of the Milky Way vary from group to group. According to the chronicles of the Rirratjingu and related Dhuwa clans, two brothers had been fishing in their bark canoe which capsized when a strong wind blew. One brother's body washed up on the shore; the other's sank. The crocodile Baru went looking for food and smelled the body of the brother on the beach. The two brothers and Baru ascended into the night sky and became constellations. A group of Possum ancestors who were conducting a ceremony, playing didjeridu and clapsticks while the women danced, saw the stars and they too ascended into the heavens, as did the ancestral Native Cat, the submerged canoe and also the Scorpion who was once a man.  They all became constellations.

Two bags of stars projecting from the Milky Way in the upper left are called Djulpan; the triangular bag is male, the elliptical one female.

This painting is sold with a bronze plaque which reads in part: 'The central black horizontal band is the sky river and the white dots are the myriads of stars; these stars are, in turn, symbols of food-fish, turtles, etc. The painting above and below this river depicts the fishermen, their catch and the type of canoe they use, as well as showing various activities the Star People in their daily search for food.'