Kuninjku people

Australia 1924 /1928 – 2009

Barrk - Black Wallaroo after fire 2005 Place made: Kabulwarnamyo, Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 159.0 h x 79.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2006
Accession No: NGA 2006.1040
Subject: Australia, Animal: Kangaroo
Image rights: © Estate of Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, Injalak Arts


  • The black wallaroo is an endemic species to the sandstone country of the Arnhem Plateau. Shy and nocturnal by nature it is not often seen. Wamud Namok’s country of Kabulwarnamyo has the rocky upper reaches of the Liverpool River valley running through it, just the habitat for Barrk. Intimate knowledge of his county has seen Wamud Namok often paint this subject— usually depicted in a prone position ready for the cooking fire.

    The plateau no longer has the traditional people that traversed country, who managed customary estates with controlled burning. These burns suppressed fowl quantities building up to dangerous (to the ecology) levels, and also cleared bush, allowing hunters to see further into it.

    This work was produced when large-scale burning programs were being undertaken across the plateau. It depicts the burnt landscape, the extent of the fire contained by the (unusual) white painted border. The hunter able to see his mark has speared his prize, a large male Barrk.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

  • Wamud Namok’s[1] keen observations of animal anatomy and behaviour were based upon a lifetime’s experience as a traditional hunter-gatherer, so he literally knew his subjects inside and out, particularly those classified as mayah, or flesh foods. One of his favourite subjects was the black wallaroo, often painted while softly singing a special type of kangaroo hunting song known as morrdjdjanjino.[2] Towards the end of his life Wamud, one of the most knowledgeable exponents of rock painting, fondly recalled the times he painted the black wallaroo onto rock. The first was in 1951 to celebrate the birth of his son, and in 2005 (the year Wamud painted this bark), it was the very last rock image he ever made.[3]

    The influence of the rock art style from the southern region that borders Kunwinjku and Dangbon lands is evident in all of Wamud’s paintings, particularly in his use of x-ray motifs and a simple ochre palette of white figures on a background of red, and occasionally of black. He never infilled his work with multicoloured crosshatching, preferring exceptionally fine parallel lines instead. This was Wamud’s signature style and even in works such as Barrk … 2005, executed late in his career when his eyesight was failing, his mastery of the line is still evident. The x-ray depiction of organs and spine indicates the wallaroo’s status as a ‘tucker’ animal, while the bands across the joints show the way the animal is butchered, with the choicest cuts indicated by the fine hatching.

    Margie West

    [1] In accordance with tradition the names of the recently deceased are not uttered, and the artist is currently referred to by this alternative name. For the sake of clarity the artist is Bardayal Nadjemerrek.

    [2] M Garde, ‘Songs that turn me into a story teller’, Australian Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, vol 2, 2007, pp 35–45.

    [3] According to George Chaloupka, the first image was painted at Dumebah and the last one at Kabulwarnamyo; the latter was captured on DVD and displayed in the Aboriginal gallery, Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. See George Chaloupka, ‘Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek’, in B L Croft (ed), Culture Warriors, 2007, p 26.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010