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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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Dhuwa journey of the dead - Aboriginal heaven

collected 1948




1928 - 1982

Language group

Djambarrpuyungu, Arnhem region


This painting shows the Dhuwa land of the dead (an island somewhere to the north-east). This is like an Aboriginal version of heaven where food and hunting are good and plentiful. Spirit people are shown catching food.

Each evening the morning star (Bunimbirr) is brought to the main camp of the spirit people in a special dilly bag. They then begin to dance and sing, singing all of the songs of where the star will travel and what it will see. As they dance they kick up the dust bringing dusk and then darkness. All through the night they continue until just before dawn when the moon has gone but before the sun has risen. Then Djunmundik who holds the bag releases the Star. As this is done the names of all of the Dhuwa country the Star will travel over are sung.
One of these places is Djarraya (Point Napier) a Djambarrpuyngu place. Bunimbrr first rests in the top of a tall Dhuwa tree, which grows on an island near the dancing ground, then flies westward as let out on a feathered string. When it comes to a Dhuwa place it rests in the top of dhuwa trees which grow in each place.

Just before the sun rises Djunmundik pulls back on the string to bring the star back to the island of the dead, where it is safely put away in the dilly bag for another day. Dead people's spirits in the form of butterflies, flying foxes, grasshoppers and praying mantis follow the string back to the island of the dead.

Present day Aboriginal peoples make a Bunimbirr pole representing the star on the Dhuwa tree and hold a morning Star ceremony in imitation of the spirit people of the land of the dead.

[Charles P. Mountford, 'Records of the American-Australian scientific expedition to Arnhem Land vol. 1: Art, myth and symbolism']


Other Title

Aboriginal heaven


collected 1948

Media category


Materials used

natural pigments on paper


58.0 x 45.5 cm image/sheet; 76.0 x 63.5 x 3.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of the Commonwealth Government 1956


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information


Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Edmund Capon, Steven Miller, Tony Tuckson, James Scougall, Mollie Gowing, Harry Messel, Craig Brush, Ronald Fine, Alison Fine, Gordon Davies, Rosalind Davies, Christopher Hodges, Helen Eager, Rosemary Gow, Sandra Phillips, Daphne Wallace and Ken Watson, Gamarada, Sydney, 1996, 6 (colour illus.).

Jonathan Jones, Mountford Gifts: Works from the American-Australian scientific expedition to Arnhem Land 1948, 'Mountford Gifts: Works from the American-Australian scientific expedition to Arnhem Land 1948', pg. 1-5, Sydney, 2009, 3, 4.

Charles P Mountford (Editor), Records of the American-Australian scientific expedition to Arnhem Land 1: Art, myth and symbolism, Melbourne, 1956, 328, (illus.). plate no. 101 'A'

National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Purchases and Acquisitions for 1956 National Art Gallery of N.S.W., Sydney, 1956, 23. 64; titled 'Aboriginal heaven'