|Lumah Lumah’s Daughters
natural earth pigments on bark
43 x 20 cm
Painted at Minjilang (Croker Island) Western Arnhemland
Private Collection, VIC
Born c1894 in his home country of Marugulidban in Western Arnhem Land, Yirawala’s boyhood was spent traveling over the land and learning his father’s sacred designs, songs and stories. His initiation was a long journey, culminating only when at 45 years of age he was endowed with the final secrets. He became a great ritual leader, with knowledge over all the secular and sacred ceremonial content of Kunwinjku iconography.
In the late 1950’s he moved to Croker Island (Minjilang), where a number of artists had collected due to the comparative artistic freedom of the Methodist mission in comparison to the one operating at Oenpelli. However the extent of this freedom is arguable, as Yirawala was apparently unaware that the paintings he created over a nine-year period had been sold through the mission until an encounter with collector Sandra Le Brun Holmes in 1964. On telling him the truth, Yirawala apparently confided, ‘all my law. Dreaming story big mob I make, nine year. I bin lose him whole lot, Marain business, Lorrgon, Ubar, magic, all finish. My eye little bit no good now’ (cited in Holmes 1992: 15).
With Holmes’ support over the ensuing years, Yirawala created more than 150 paintings, 139 of which now reside in the National Gallery of Australia. This marked the first time in the history of the Aboriginal art movement when a ceremonial cycle could be seen visually in its’ entirety.