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Old Masters: Australia's great bark artists

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Mural painting is another form of painting on bark, and stems from the practice of artists drawing or painting on the inside walls of their family bark huts or shelters. There are two main types of bark shelter in Arnhem Land: one with straight walls, and the other made of walls curved over a horizontal beam (see George Milpurrurru’s Galawu (Stringybark House). Both types are built using large sheets of flattened bark. Painting on bark shelter walls predominated until the early 20th century, when collectors created a demand for more portable bark paintings.

Wally Mandarrk’s Borlung and Kangaroo was a mural made specifically for Mandarrk’s family in a camp at Mankorlod that was later abandoned. It was discovered by a Maningrida art centre manager, Dan Gillespie, in 1973. Two Frogs and a Baby Brolga was also cut from the wall of such a shelter.

Paintings in the exhibition

Click on the images below to see a larger version and more information, including dimensions. Please note these images are not to scale.

  • Two Frogs and a Baby Brolga
    Unknown artist, Two Frogs and a Baby Brolga
  • Borlung and Kangaroo
    Wally Mandarrk, Borlung and Kangaroo
  • Spirit Figure
    Wally Mandarrk, Spirit Figure

All these bark paintings are part of the National Museum of Australia’s collection. © the artist or the artist’s estate, licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency 2013, unless otherwise specified. These images must not be reproduced in any form without permission.