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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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Djaykung (File snakes)

circa 1960


Mithinari Gurruwiwi


1929 - 01 Nov 1976

Language group

Galpu, Arnhem region


Mithinari Gurruwiwi was an exceptional and prolific artist from the Blue Mud Bay area of north-east Arnhem Land. Born in 1929, Gurruwiwi was taught to paint by Mawalan Marika and his works predominantly refer to the Galpu clan’s lands around Caledon Bay and Garrimala, further inland. Gurruwiwi’s works offer a seamless combination of figurative elements and abstract clan designs. His exquisite infilling techniques of delicate dots, fine lines and intricate cross-hatching, contrasted with bold areas of pure colour, enliven his works. This is especially evident in this work, one of the finest bark paintings in the Gallery’s collection. Completed when Gurruwiwi was only 30, the work depicts waterlily-covered billabongs that are home to plump file snakes, valued food sources that are just part of the riches to be found in Galpu country.



circa 1960

Media category

Bark painting

Materials used

natural pigments on eucalyptus bark


280.0 x 70.0 cm (irreg.)

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of Professor Harry Messel 1987


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Mithinari Gurruwiwi

Artist profile

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 7 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 9 publications


Jonathan Cooper (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales Bulletin, 'Yiribana', pg. 25, Sydney, May 1997-Jun 1997, 25 (colour illus.).

Jonathan Cooper (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales Bulletin, 'Yiribana Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Gallery', pg. 10-13, Sydney, Oct 1994-Nov 1994, 10 (colour illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art', pg. 208-241, Sydney, 1999, 215 (colour illus.).

Steven Miller, One sun one moon: Aboriginal art in Australia, ‘Cultural capital: Key moments in the collecting of Australian Indigenous art’, pg. 29-41, Sydney, 2007, 31 (colour illus.).

Howard Morphy, Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, 'Mithinari Gurruwiwi', pg. 54, Sydney, 2004, 54, 55 (colour illus.).

Margo Neale, Yiribana: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection, Sydney, 1994, 96, 97 (colour illus.), 137, 138. plate no. 45

Barry Pearce, Look, 'A question of balance: How it is bringing changes to the old courts and beyond', pg. 28-29, Sydney, Sep 2009, 28 (colour illus.).

Hetti Perkins and Ken Watson, A material thing - objects from the collection, Sydney, 1999.

Paul S.C. Tacon, Aratjara: art of the first Australians, 'The Power of the Image among the Past and Present Peoples of Arnhem Land', pg. 127-196, Dusseldorf, 1993, 176 (colour illus.), 337. 48