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School of Yirawala

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.


School of Yirawala

The school of Yirawala developed as a natural outcome of artists sharing camps and outstations with members of their extended families. Such places contain artists’ studios that are out in the open and surrounded by the daily activities of the family — rather than being locked away in secrecy. The open-air studios provide opportunities for artists to work together and to influence each other. They are also where younger family members learn about art.

Marrkolidjban outstation, in the Liverpool River region, played an important role in the history of the development of the artists tutored by Yirawala. It was here that Yirawala and Curly Bardkadubbu, both members of the Born clan, lived and worked in the early 1970s. Bardkadubbu learnt from Yirawala to paint on bark and, around the same time, Yirawala taught his own sister’s son, Peter Marralwanga, the intricacies of painting patterns of rarrk. Marralwanga in turn taught his nephew John Mawurndjul who, as a teenager, had been inspired by Yirawala.

Note the similarities in these artists’ renditions of Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent and Namanjwarre the Estuarine Crocodile. In each case the sheer power of the creatures is expressed in the drawing of the figures as coiled springs, ready to snap and unleash their herculean powers.

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.

  • Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent
    Peter Marralwanga, Ngalyod the Rainbow Serpent
  • Yawkyawk
    Peter Marralwanga,Yawkyawk
  • Namanjwarre the Estuarine Crocodile, about 1980
    Curly Bardkadubbu, Namanjwarre the Estuarine Crocodile
  • Rainbow Serpent
    John Mawurndjul, Rainbow Serpent

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.