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


Birrkulda ceremony

circa 1960


Tom Djawa


1905 – 23 Mar 1980

Language group: Gupapuyngu, Arnhem region

Artist profile

Alternate image of Birrkulda ceremony by Tom Djawa
Alternate image of Birrkulda ceremony by Tom Djawa
Alternate image of Birrkulda ceremony by Tom Djawa
Alternate image of Birrkulda ceremony by Tom Djawa
Alternate image of Birrkulda ceremony by Tom Djawa
  • Details

    Other Title
    Untitled (The High Totem - Birrkulda Ceremony)
    Place where the work was made
    Milingimbi Central Arnhem Land Northern Territory Australia
    Cultural origin
    circa 1960
    Media category
    Bark painting
    Materials used
    natural pigments on bark
    157.0 x 65.0 cm
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Purchased with funds provided by the Aboriginal Art Collection Benefactors 2013
    South Building, ground level, 20th-century 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 was among the group of artists, including Binyinyuwuy and Lipundja, working at Milingimbi from the late 1940s. These artists were actively painting their culture with the support of the mission, producing small jewel like bark paintings and some sculptural forms.

    Djäwa celebrates his own clan in Birrkulda ceremony c1960, in what his son, Dr Gumbala described as being:
    Like a passport … like an I.D. This is a painting worth mention. This is a Yirritja painting and this is a Gupapunygu painting and the painting is coming from a place called Djiliwirri. This painting has lots of meanings in this country. Identifying people, who they are … this is the painting of Gupapuygu clan.

    As a form of self-portrait, the work identifies Djäwa as an individual and as a Gupapuyngu Daygurrgurr man. Djiliwirri is the Gupapuyngu Daygurrgurr estate at Buckingham Bay and Djäwa’s homeland. The commanding figures and objects within the work are elaborately adorned with the distinct diamond design for niwuda (Yirritja honey). Sugarbag is a highly valued commodity and is celebrated by Gupapuyngu Daygurrgurr people, being a central feature of the age grading Birrkulda ceremony during which it is painted on the bodies of participants.

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 3 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication

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

Other works by Tom Djawa

See all 9 works