We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.





Tom Djawa


1905 – 23 Mar 1980

Language group: Gupapuyngu, Arnhem region

Artist profile

  • Details

    Other Title
    Three snakes
    Place where the work was made
    Milingimbi Central Arnhem Land Northern Territory Australia
    Cultural origin
    Gupapuyngu, Arnhem region
    Media category
    Bark painting
    Materials used
    natural pigments on bark
    44.5 x 27.5 cm
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Gift of Betty Kelly 2016
    Naala Nura, lower level 1, Asian Lantern galleries
    Accession number
    © Djawa Estate. Licensed by Aboriginal Artist Agency Ltd, Sydney

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Tom Djawa

    Artist profile

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Tom Djawa was a senior leader of the Gupapuyngu clan and one of the main artists working at Milingimbi in the 1950s when Reverend Edgar Wells was the mission superintendent. Wells actively encourage the men in the community to paint and supported their efforts by operating an art centre below the mission house, where he would collect works for distribution to the Methodist overseas mission shops located in various state capitals.

    In 'Mundukul' 1950, Djäwa captures three yellow-bellied pythons, the Yirritja snakes known as Mundukul and connected to water. At Milingimbi Mundukul is associated with the Macassan Well, a source of living water surrounded by extensive shell middens. The name of the well reflects the long-held connections in the area with Macassan trepangers from Sulawesi, who visited the area for several centuries until the early 20th century; however, the well was used by local people before the arrival of these visitors. As Djäwa recalled, ‘The Macassan Well belongs to the Yirritja moiety. It was made by a snake, called Mundukul. He came flashing lightning, from Worral.’

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

    • Cara Pinchbeck, Art from Milingimbi, ‘Djawa’, pg. 76-85, Sydney, 2016, 84 (colour illus.), 148 (colour illus., detail), 141.

Other works by Tom Djawa

See all 9 works