As a young man, Binyinyuwuy opposed the presence of the Methodist Mission at Milingimbi, established in 1923, and the adoption of balanda (whitefella) ways. Described as a ‘pocket Hercules’,1 Binyinyuwuy successfully raided the mission store a number of times. However, his prodigious talents as an artist and craftsman were well known to the senior men of Milingimbi, and they encouraged Binyinyuwuy to join the group of artists then producing bark paintings for sale to collectors.
Binyinyuwuy celebrates the communal joy associated with collecting sugarbag (wild honey) in Yirritja honey bee design (Niwuda), c.1960. This intricate bark painting, consisting of diamond-patterned miny’tji (sacred clan designs) painted with brilliant ochres, refers to such details as the honeycomb filled with honey, wax, pollen, dead bees and debris. The hive is ingeniously depicted, using two distinct clan designs. The black circle and pointed cone represent the built-up opening of the hive, and also refer to sacred objects made of painted and decorated wood or rolled paperbark bound with string, to signify honey in ceremony. These spectacular designs are also painted on the bodies of young Yirritja boys for their dhapi (initiation) ceremony and on men when performing in the Djambarrpuyungu and Gupapuyungu Birrkuda (honey) ceremonies.
A cloudburst of rain falls on the stylised, tropical forest in Rain in the trees, c.1959. Underneath this panel, sections of finely painted, multi-coloured zigzags and chevrons alternate with bands of dashes or strokes, representing the lightning and thunder clouds.
The columns of circular floral designs in Trees and flying fox camp, c.1950s, symbolise both the flying fox droppings and the flowers from which they extract nectar. This comparatively restrained composition successfully reduces these associated, yet divergent, realities to an identifiable visual code or abbreviation. Both paintings were collected by the Rev. Edgar Wells while he was superintendent of the mission at Milingimbi between 1949 and 1959, and were purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, in 1962.
Binyinyuwuy was a renowned fighter and great ceremonial performer. His paintings reveal his robust, meticulous character and confirm his reputation as one of the finest bark painters of his generation – a generation famous for its virtuosity in the medium.
Ken Watson in ’Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2014