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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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Trees and flying fox camp

circa 1950s




1928 - 1982

Language group

Djambarrpuyungu, Arnhem region


As a young man, Binyinyuwuy opposed the presence of the Methodist Mission at Milingimbi, established in 1923, and the adoption of balanda (whitefella) ways. Described as a 'pocket Hercules', Binyinyuwuy successfully raided the mission store a number of times. However, his prodigious talents as an artist and craftsman were well known to the senior men of Milingimbi, and they encouraged Binyinyuwuy to join the group of artists then producing bark paintings for sale to collectors.

Binyinyuwuy celebrates the communal joy associated with collecting sugarbag (wild honey) in 'Yirritja honey bee design (Niwuda)', c.1960. This intricate bark painting, consisting of diamond-patterned miny'tji (sacred clan designs) painted with brilliant ochres, refers to such details as the honeycomb filled with honey, wax, pollen, dead bees and debris. The hive is ingeniously depicted, using two distinct clan designs. The black circle and pointed cone represent the built-up opening of the hive, and also refer to sacred objects made of painted and decorated wood or rolled paperbark bound with string, to signify honey in ceremony. These spectacular designs are also painted on the bodies of young Yirritja boys for their dhapi (initiation) ceremony and on men when performing in the Djambarrpuyungu and Gupapuyungu Birrkuda (honey) ceremonies.

A cloudburst of rain falls on the stylised, tropical forest in 'Rain in the trees', c.1959. Underneath this panel, sections of finely painted, multi-coloured zigzags and chevrons alternate with bands of dashes or strokes, representing the lightning and thunder clouds.

The columns of circular floral designs in 'Trees and flying fox camp', c.1950s, symbolise both the flying fox droppings and the flowers from which they extract nectar. This comparatively restrained composition successfully reduces these associated, yet divergent, realities to an identifiable visual code or abbreviation. Both paintings were collected by the Rev. Edgar Wells while he was superintendent of the mission at Milingimbi between 1949 and 1959, and were purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, in 1962.

Binyinyuwuy was a renowned fighter and great ceremonial performer. His paintings reveal his robust, meticulous character and confirm his reputation as one of the finest bark painters of his generation a generation famous for its virtuosity in the medium.

Ken Watson in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004

© Art Gallery of New South Wales


Other Title

Bark painting (Trees and flying fox camp)


circa 1950s

Media category

Bark painting

Materials used

natural pigments on bark


48.0 x 29.5 cm (irreg.)

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1962


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information


Artist profile

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


Emily Joyce Evans and Falk Wolf, Remembering forward: Australian Aboriginal painting since 1960, 'Bark paintings', pg. 102-123, Cologne, 2010, 104 (colour illus.), 105 (colour illus., detail). 45

Ken Watson, Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, 'Binyinyuwuy', pg. 30, Sydney, 2004, 39 (colour illus.).