Collected in the Yirrkala region, North East Arnhem Land, NT
Private Collection, NSW
Narritjin, the keeper of the important possum tree story, was a great ceremonial leader in North East Arnhem Land.
Guwark, the sacred bird of the Dreamtime, lives at the top of a tree situated on the high cliffs above Blue Mud Bay. Only the very old initiated men can look upon this sacred tree, and then only at dawn, when the grey mists swirl about the tree and give an elusive glimpse of its branches.
High on the top of the tree sits Guwark, waiting for cicadas and possums to scamper up the tree with messages from the people living on earth. He flies off across the ocean to the island of the spirits, Baralku, and recounts the human problems to the spirit heroes. After consultation amongst themselves, they appoint Barama, one of the chief spirits, to relay the answer to the big black bird, which then flies back across the ocean. As he approaches the tree, he screeches out ‘guwark guwark’. The possums and cicadas scamper up the tree to hear his message and take it back to the people anxiously waiting below.
Once Guwark was a man who went out fishing with a companion in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Huge seas overturned their canoe and Guwark gave the only paddle to his companion, who drifted onto shore with it. Guwark drowned and went up into the Milky Way. Each day he flies down to the sacred tree to wait for his messages, returning to the heavens each night.Share