Wilson Manydjarri was born in the bush at Gulnga or Rrorruwuy on Datiwuy Country in Arnhem Bay. As a boy he was taken by canoe to Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island) for his Dhapi (initiation) ceremony, returning to Burraling on the mainland and then walking around Arnhem Bay to Yirrkala over the next year or so. He made nuwayak (bark shelter) with his father to stay dry in the wet season. He remembers the big smoky fires they would make to keep the milkmilk (mosquitos) away. At this age he was able to make garranuk (spear) to hunt wallaby, emu and fish for himself, and also making and learning yidaki ga manikay (didgeridoo and song) from his father.
Manydjarri remembers walking together with his family through country and how happy they were. His father told stories about travelling with his brother and Donald Thompson, from Arnhem Bay to Roper River and on to Borroloola, as part of the Special Reconnaissance Unit during WWII. They were watching for the Japanese.
Arriving at Yirrkala when he was about 15, Manydjarri went to the mission school while his father got a job as a cleaner at Butjumurru and Galupa (Melba Bay) with the Army. At school holiday time in the dry season Wilson would walk to join his father and family to hunt for stingray.
After a few years at school, Manydjarri travelled with his two fathers and their wives to Marta Marta where a new homeland was being established. He then moved to Galiwin’ku where he stayed and worked on a road crew, as a fisherman and then at the first Art Centre where he began to paint and carve. He later returned to Marta Marta with his two children, before establishing his homeland at Rrorruwuy with his father in the 1980s. At this time he worked as an artist with Buku Larnggay Mulka (Yirrkala Art Centre).
Manydjarri travelled to Chicago in the USA to attend an exhibition opening with several other artists from Arnhem Land, and also participated in a large Banambirr (Morning Star) ceremony at the Maritime Museum in Sydney in 2002.
As a young man, Manydjarri was chosen to take over ceremonial obligations for the Datiwuy people. He now resides at Milingimbi where he previously worked in the art centre as the boss for traditional materials harvesting. He is an extremely knowledgeable and powerful song man who paints intricate designs from both his mother’s and father’s estates.
Link to Wilson performing Banumbirr bungul at the Maritime museum, Sydney:
Mäṉa (shark) (#229-19)$2,300.00
Djanda ga Milminydjarrk (Goanna and sacred waterhole) (#280-17)$2,000.00
Mäṉa (shark) (#46-20)$120.00
Milminydjarrk at Garriyak (#156-19)$450.00
Milminydjarrk Barnday (dry sacred waterholes) at Garriyak (#155-19)$450.00
Indjapana Bulaynbirr (#153-19)$450.00