In late 2019 Milingimbi artists were invited by curator, Nici Cumpston, to create new works that explored the theme of sharing between generations. The below text was written for the accompanying exhibition catalogue. 

It is not surprising that, in these times, we often focus on the passing of knowledge between generations. This is necessary as outside pressures continue to impact on the rich cultural, artistic and linguistic practices of Indigenous people.

Since time immemorial, intricate cultural knowledge has been passed between generations. Underpinning this passing of knowledge are systems embedded in relationship and clan obligation. While today at Milingimbi, we grapple with technology in attempts to capture something of the knowledge of elders who grew up with the old ways, we must acknowledge that the ingenious Yolŋu systems that have maintained this cultural legacy and memory have never stopped.

This system of relationship as memory repository is active in the artistic and cultural work of Susan Balbunga, Margaret Rarru, Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Ruth Nalmakarra, Mandy Batjula and Wilson Manydjarri. For example, djuŋgaya (mother / child – cultural caretaker), märi / gutharra (grandparent / grandchild) and yapa / wäwa (sister / brother) relationships function not only between people and clans but also between songs, country and objects. For example, a person might say about a particular place ‘Dhuwal wäŋa rraku Märi’, ‘This place is my grandmother’, or ‘Dhuwal bathi ŋarraku waku’, ‘This basket is my child’. Senior weaver and Warrawarra cultural leader Susan Balbunga sometimes starts her weaving process by talking to the leaders of the Gamalaŋga clan before creating Gamalaŋga ceremonial objects such as their ceremonial miṉḏirr (dillybag). The Gamalaŋga own the design but, as a Warrawarra woman, Balbunga is recognised as a mother of Gamalaŋga. Through this role, she assists with the maintenance of their clan ceremonial knowledge. Gamalaŋga leader Jason Mewala expresses his gratitude and respect for Balbunga as the single remaining elder of her generation. She has cared for and carried Gamalaŋga knowledge and ensured that this generation continues to practise and maintain its law and culture.

While assisting the Gamalaŋga clan by making their ceremonial miṉḏirr, Balbunga gets her grandsons to assist. Phillip Guyabaka, Arthur Bunduwabi and Matthew Djipurrtjun are the djuŋgaya, or cultural caretakers, for the Gamalaŋga, their mother’s clan. As djuŋgaya, they must develop an intimate understanding of Gamalaŋga ceremony. Guyabaka explains that when a Gamalaŋga ceremony or funeral takes place, he helps with applying the body paint to Gamalaŋga men and women and with making their body adornments from bush fibres and ochre. Bunduwabi and Djipurrtjun lead the Gamalaŋga in buŋgul (dance) and accompany them with yiḏaki (didgeridoo). By assisting Balbunga to make the Gamalaŋga ceremonial miṉḏirr, Guyabaka, Bunduwabi and Djipurrtjun are honouring their märi / gutharra (grandparent / grandchild) relationship with Balbunga and upholding their responsibility to care for and carry forward the knowledge and practices of their mother’s clan.

The weaving practice of Margaret Rarru, Helen Ganalmirriwuy and Ruth Nalmakarra expresses their patrilineal Liyagawumirr-Garrawurra clan identity as well as their connections to the Gorryindi, Mäḻarra and Gamalaŋga clans. Their Liyagawumirr-Garrawurra designs are limited to a palette of red, white and yellow and applied as stripes, circles and triangles. Their miṉḏirr adorned with these designs express their Liyagawumirr-Garrawurra identity, whereas other miṉḏirr with alternating colours running vertically through horizontal bands express their grandmother’s Gamalaŋga clan and the closely affiliated Mäḻarra and Gorryindi clans. Imbued in all these bold designs is an intricate knowledge of country, kinship and law.

Rarru, Ganalmirriwuy and Nalmakarra’s weaving practice exceeds the making of utilitarian or decorative objects. They have the authority and skill to make miṉḏirr, raki and djali (dillybags, string and armbands) for Ŋärra (cleansing ceremony). Their authority to make these objects has come to them because of their cultural seniority as well as their ancestral ties to the country of Gärriyak and the story of the Djaŋ’kawu sisters (creation spirits).

Weaving as a practice imbued with the energy of the Waŋarr, the creator ancestors, is also upheld through song. Wilson Manydjarri, a senior man of the Däṯiwuy clan, sings and maintains Gunga manikay, which tells of a mokuy or spirit, Dhanbuḻ, harvesting and preparing pandanus and weaving a basket. Manydjarri explains that Dhanbuḻ was the first being ever to weave pandanus. In the song, we are taught to observe: as Dhanbuḻ works, she says ‘Goŋ nhäŋu’ ‘Watch my hands’. We are taught about the co-occurence of species and their multiple names – the rock fig tree, rripipi or ḏawu-makarr, and Gould’s wattled bat, winyila, which wakes Dhanbuḻ from a deep sleep. Recorded also are the patterns of work and rest so familiar to weavers as she harvests, then weaves in the shade, and then lies down to sleep. Messages about what is of value are also recorded and passed on through this practice, such as when she holds up her basket and asks ‘Manymak ŋarraku bathi?’, ‘Is my basket a good one?’.

The song is sung in Manydjarri’s Ḏäṯiwuy language and, over time, during Dhapi (circumcision ceremonies) and Bäpurru (funeral ceremonies), young people come to learn and recognise the story through watching and participating. There is a fluidity between past and present as the dancers at a buŋgul embody and make new the spirits and ancestral beings of the manikay (song). That same fluidity exists when a weaver harvests the pandanus, and strips and weaves it under a tree, as Dhanbuḻ did.

Participants in ceremony learn the layers of meaning in the song as family members deem them ready. A senior custodian of this song, Wilson sings it for his own clan and other closely related Dhuwa clans, including the Garrawurra clan, which has a brother / sister relationship with the Ḏäṯiwuy. Through observation and carefully meted-out tutelage, the new generation learn their rights and responsibilities with regard to this song, and the knowledge is passed on.

At the art centre, the passing on of knowledge in many ways includes technology. Work has been under way for several years at Milingimbi Art and Culture to repatriate digital photos of historical and recent works. Photographs, stories and videos all go into a database – seemingly anathema to Yolŋu knowledge transmission systems. And yet, through all of this, relationships underpin everything: young people find photographs and go to their elders to learn the story. Yolŋu look at works of art together and discuss the relationship of everyone present to the works. Yolŋu seek the presence of a djuŋgaya (cultural caretaker) when they tell the story of their clan miny’tji (designs). A djuŋgaya – a person in the relationship of waku (woman’s child) to the speaker – is there to supervise and ensure it is told right.

In these ways, the veracity of the stories is ensured, the story is kept straight, the basket is woven right, and knowledge is passed through the cycle of generations.


Written by Phillip Guyabaka, Ruth Nalmakarra, Rosita Holmes and Salome Harris

Manikay translation by Wilson Manydjarri and Salome Harris

The above text was published in the TARNANTHI 2020: Open hands exhibition catalogue. To learn more about this exhibition see the Art Gallery of South Australia website.


Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation

The Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation is a community owned Art Centre that maintains an important position in the national art and cultural arena. Milingimbi Art and Culture has a long history of producing works steeped in active cultural practice such as barks, ceremonial poles, carvings and weavings. Works from Milingimbi are integral to important collections in many National and International institutions.



Gululu dhuwala Djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu FoundationsChau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney University. 18 Nov 2020 to August 2021.   Representing more than 20 Yolŋu clan groups and 100 artists from eastern Arnhem Land, Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu foundations (18 Nov 2020 – August 2021) is one of the major exhibitions for the opening of the University of Sydney’s new Chau Chak Wing Museum. The 350 artworks in Gululu dhuwala djalkiri represent generations of Yolŋu artists and include pieces dating back to the period following the establishment of Methodist missions in Milingimbi and Yirrkala, the late 1920s and 1940s. There anthropologists from the University acquired artworks and objects and took photographs in consultation with Yolŋu as an integral part of their researches. The exhibition also features new work, including a series of hollow logs made by artists of Milingimbi Art and Culture which were a centrepiece of the 2016 Milingimbi Makarraṯa.




Gularri: Yothu yindi. Water Scapes from northern Australia, 22 July to 26 September 2021. Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.

Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy at Outstation Gallery, Darwin. Opening 20 March 2021.

Cross Art Projects, Sydney. 2021. Renown Milingimbi artist Margaret Rarru will exhibit a selection of weavings and drawings inspired by Macassan /Yolŋu trade alngside artworks by Indonesian artist Ipeh Nur.    

Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, Darwin Convention Centre, 6 to 8 August 2021.

Tarnanthi Art Fair, Adelaide. October 2021.




Bäpurru ga Bäpurru, 26 August 2020 to 10 January 2021, Kluge Ruhe, USA.  An exhibition of recent print works from Milingimbi and Yirrkala. Works from Milingimbi will include the Bäpurru Memorial suite created in honour of the late Mrs Gorriyindi who passed sudden shortly after working as follow with the Kluge Ruhe in 2018.

Long Water: fibre stories, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 5 September–19 December 2020. A survey exhibition of Indigenous weavers curated by Freja Carmichael. Susan Balbunga, Ruth Nalmakarra, Helen Ganalmirriwuy and Mandy Batjula have created a series of pieces that express the artists connection to water through their weaving practice.

Tarnanthi: Open Hands 16 Oct 2020 – 31 Jan 2021. Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Milingimbi artists; Susan Balbunga,Wilson Manydjarri, Helen Ganalmirriwuy, Margaret Rarru, Mandy Batjula, Ruth Nalmakarra, Paddy Mugabi, Matthew Djipurrtjun, Samual Wumulul and Jacob Ganambarr have created an installation of mindirr, miny'tji, ḏupun ga manikay (weaving, painting, memorial poles and song) that explores the interconnection of these art forms, and the märi gutharra (grandparent and grandchild) relationship of the Garrawurra and Gamalaŋga clans. 

Tarnanthi Art Fair, at Lot fourteen, 4 to 6 December 2020. This year’s Art Fair features a curated display of selected works for sale, handpicked by community-run art centres to highlight established and next-generation artists. It also includes shop-style sales of countless works by artists from across Australia. In addition, a program of digital presentations will show artists making their work and discussing their motivations, traditions and environment.

Piinpi: Contemporary Indigenous Fashion, Bendigo Art Gallery. 31 October to 29 November 2020. Brings together a selection of garments and textiles by First Nations designers and artists from around Australia including Margaret Rarru's woven pandanus Madonna Bra and Bathi.

Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, Darwin Convention Centre, August 2020. (This will be an online event)

Wrapped, Woven & Wound, JamFactory, Adelaide. 15 May to 12 July 2020. Presents work from eight female artists, including a mix of sculptural, decorative and functional pieces that explore the use of interlaced or wrapped components. Including works by Mandy Batjula.

The Magic of Black and White, Siemenstraße 40, 71735 Eberdingen-Nussdorf, 19 January 2019 to 1 March 2020. A group exhibition featuring artworks by Australian and Papua New Guinean First Nations People. With a focus on the reduced palette of 'black and white' this exhibition features Helen Ganalmirriwuy's stunning Mol (black) weaving.

The Alchemists: Weaving Knowledge, The Goods Shed, Perth,  4 October 2019. A survey of recent contemporary fibre art from Aboriginal artists and art centres across the country.

Pandanus Noir; Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy selected weavings, RAFT Artspace, Alice Springs, 2 October 2019. An exbibition featuring a selection of Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy's Mol (black) woven artworks and several other monochrome pieces.

Ngalya (Together), Koskela, Sydney,  28 August to 22 September 2019. The collection of collaborative lighting designs between designers Koskela and six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art centres – Bula’Bula Arts, Durrmu Arts, Milingimbi Art and Culture, Moa Arts, Ngarrindjeri Weavers, and Tjanpi Desert Weavers – highlights the innovation and contemporary transformations taking place in Indigenous fibre arts and cultures across Australia. Also on exhibition at Tarnanthi Festival, from 18 October 2019

Contemporary Art from Asia, Australia and the Pacific: A Selection of works from QAGOMA’s Asia Pacific Triennial’ is at Centro Cultural La Moneda in Santiago, Chile from 22 August – 8 December 2019 Including artworks (paintings on bark, memorial poles and weavings) by Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy.

The Inside World: Contemporary Aboriginal Memorial Poles, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, United States of America, 31 July 2019. A survey of contemporary memorial poles from Arnhem Land collected by Debra and Denis Scholl.

GOMA Asia Pacific Triennial, 24 Nov 2018 – 28 Apr 2019 . The Asia Pacific Triennial brings significant art from across the Asia Pacific and Australia to GOMA Brisbane. This exhibition includes Margaret Rarru and Helen Ganalmirriwuy master weavers who also paint their clan body designs in minimalist patterns on barks and poles.

ArtKelch, Freiburg, Germany. Exhibition opening 14th September

Local Colour: experiments with nature, University of New South Wales Gallery, 28 July, 2018  15 September. As the world has become more globalised, people are seeking meaning, connection and everyday solutions in their local communities and environments. Local Colour explores recent art and design practice premised on a concern for environmental sustainability and the conservation of natural resources.

National Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Art Awards. Museum and Gallery Northern Territory, 11 August - 11 November 2018

Gapu Moṉuk, Animal Logic, Ground Floor, 1632 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291, USA, 3-20 May 2018, Gallery Hours 11am – 5pm, Thursday through Sunday

Earth Matters at Form Gallery, Perth.  29 September – 28 February 2018
This exhibition explores the enigmatic qualities and materiality of white earth pigments in Aboriginal artwork from the Kimberley (WA), Arnhem Land (NT) and Tiwi Islands (NT) in paintings, and three dimensional works.

Berndt Museum of Anthropology, University of Western Australia at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth, 26th July - 16th December, 2017. Brinning together artworks from the museums historical collection and recently commissioned memorial poles. 

Milingimbi Art and Culture: Gapu Moṉuk, Embassy of Australia, Washington D.C, USA, 3 October, 2017

Gapu ga Rangithirri ga Ngurruthirri ga: the water is coming up, the water is going away at Woolloongabba Art Gallery, Brisbane 613 Stanley St, Woolloongabba, Qld, 26 September - 22 October, 2017

Walma / Moon Rising, Koskela Gallery, Sydney, 29 July - 27 August, 2017

Art from Milingimbi: Taking Memories Back, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 November, 2016 - 29 January, 2017. This exhibition provides a snapshot of the artistic excellence evident in the community in the 1950s, celebrating the work of Binyinyuwuy, Buranday, Dayngangan, Dawidi, Djäwa, Djimbarrdjimbarrwuy, Lipundja and Makani, alongside the wider artistic practices in the community at the time.

Yolngu'yulnguy Ngayatham Miny'tji Danydjay Romdhu (Everyone, past present future, we all hold and look after our sacred designs in the depth of the law), Aboriginal and Pacific Art, Sydney, 12 - 30 November, 2016

Contact us

A: Lot 53 Gadupu Rd, Milingimbi via Winellie, NT 0822
P: (+61) 8987 9888

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website may contain images and voices of deceased persons.

© Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation

Follow us