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


Source of fire



Djambawa Marawili AM


1953 –

Language group: Madarrpa, Arnhem region

No image
  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Yirrkala North-east Arnhem Land Northern Territory Australia
    Media category
    Bark painting
    Materials used
    natural pigments on eucalyptus bark
    191.0 x 84.0 cm
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Purchased with funds provided by the Aboriginal Art Collection Benefactors 2005
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Djambawa Marawili. Licensed by Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre
    Artist information
    Djambawa Marawili AM

    Works in the collection


  • About

    This is one of the more important artworks created by Djambawa Marawili. He has shown four areas of Country. It is an allegorical painting that describes the creation of the Ancestral great bush fire, as a consequence of conflict between Bäru and his wife Dhamaliŋu.

    The subject also relates to the practice of Yolŋu land management practices, through the use of fire, specifically the regular seasonal burning off of tracts of Country to encourage regrowth or to corral game. 'Source of Fire' also functions as a physical statement of the Law and Culture of the Yolŋu.

    According to Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Art Centre documentation:
    'Yathikpa beach: Bäru, an Ancestral being, and his wife Dhamaliŋu, were afflicted with severe burns during a fight in which they each fell in[to] the fire. Bäru's wife changed into a blue-tongue lizard; himself the Crocodile. The metaphor of anger, power, and fire, implicit in these songs, make this the source of the fire.

    'Garrangali Crocodile's nest: Following a creek, Bäru ventured to another sacred area at Yathikpa to create a nesting site. Lots of deep law about fertility, identify here. You can feel the fire underneath the black soil floodplains. The spiritual danger [here is] matched by the physical danger of approaching the croc[odile]'s nest.'

    'Dhakalmay: Bäru threw the fire to the sacred rock Dhakalmayi, [which rests] out at sea. The sacred fire continues to boil the water around this dangerous rock. Two hunter beings, drawn to the taboo area chasing Dugong were drowned [here], and [set] an important set of mortuary rituals in train from this place.'

    'Birany Birany: The Ancestral fire swept overland. At the Gumatj homeland of Biranybirany, behind the beach, are two billabongs. One belongs as ringgitj (specific plot of land within that belonging to another clan) to the Madarrpa. Both empty into the bay encompassed by the beach at Biranybirany, having sacred water of both clans mixing with the salt. On dry land close to the billabong during Ancestral times, special events with fire took place. The fire forced Wan'kurra, the bandicoot, to seek shelter in a hollow long, its actions the fore runner to traditional mortuary final rites. Djirikitj, the quail or fire bird, returned to site after the fire passed. Djirikitj is said to have spread fire to other Country associated with both the Madarrpa and Gumatj by flying with, then dropping, burning twigs. Here, sacred design becomes more similar to the Gumatj desing for fire, but remains Madarrpa owned and rites remain with them.'

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 3 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 3 publications

    • Wally Caruana and Franchesca Cubillo, Australia, 'Country: Aboriginal art', pg. 40-89, London, 2013, 45, 57 (colour illus.). fig.no. 8

    • Wally Caruana, Fire and water: The work of Djambawa Marawili, United Kingdom, 01 Nov 2013, by Wally Caruana, online, originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the Royal Academy.

    • Marcia Langton and Bruno David, One sun one moon: Aboriginal art in Australia, 'Talking country: The concept of art in Yolngu culture', pg. 67-71, Sydney, 2007, 69 (colour illus.).

Other works by Djambawa Marawili AM