Journey to Sea Country
Discover the story of the Yolŋu people and the Blue Mud Bay legal case.
Gapu-Monuk Saltwater: Journey to Sea Country tells the powerful story of the Yolŋu people of North-East Arnhem Land, their fight for recognition of Indigenous sea rights and the Blue Mud Bay legal case. Discover how historic bark paintings were used to win Indigenous sea rights.
"…this exhibit blows away Dior, Bowie, Mapplethorpe – ALL of it.
And it's ours from the Yolŋu people – their Dreamtime on bark paintings. I'm in total awe!"
– Wendy Harmer, ABC Radio
Gapu-Monuk are words from the Yolŋu matha language, of North-East Arnhem Land. Gapu (water), monuk (salt), describes Saltwater.
The exhibition centres around 40 Yirrkala bark paintings from the Saltwater Collection, created by the Yolŋu artists who petitioned for sea rights by painting their Saltwater Countries onto bark, and revealing sacred patterns or designs known as Miny’tji.
It also includes Mokuy (spirit) carvings, Larrakitj (mortuary pole paintings on hollowed trees) and other traditional and contemporary works.
Oral histories, aerial photography and traditional and contemporary Indigenous objects help visitors delve deeper into the stories of the communities who created the paintings, revealing a richer understanding of their connection to sea country.
In 1997, 47 Yolŋu artists from fifteen clans and eighteen homelands communities in North-East Arnhem Land revealed their sacred lore and their connections to land and sea in these paintings known as the Saltwater Collection. The works were initiated by Madarrpa clan leader Djambawa Marawili AM, following his indignation at discovering an illegal poacher’s camp on his sacred estate that included a decapitated crocodile.
More than a decade later, in July 2008, the High Court of Australia confirmed that the traditional owners of the Blue Mud Bay region in North-East Arnhem Land, together with the traditional owners of almost the entire Northern Territory coastline, have exclusive access rights to tidal waters overlying Aboriginal land.
The paintings were deemed the legal equivalent of title deeds to the sea rights of coastal waters.
"It is time for non-Aboriginal people to learn about this land, learn about the waters. So if we are living the way of reconciliation, you must learn about Native Title and Sea Right.”
- Djambawa Marawili, AM, 1999
A contemporary Aboriginal artwork has links to the cosmology of the people of Arnhem Land and to their relationships with their Makassan neighbours from Indonesia.
Open daily, 9.30am–5pm, from 9 November 2017 - February 2019.
Included in the FREE Galleries Ticket.
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The museum store has sourced a unique range of Indigenous-made products that speak to the stories and themes in the Gapu-Monuk exhibition.
You’ll find an array of inspired choices that reflect both the art and the experiences of Indigenous Australians when you shop online.
The range acknowledges the traditional land owners of Australia, and a percentage of profits are directly endowed to Indigenous communities and artists.
The Australian National Maritime Museum acknowledges the Yolngu people as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters of North-East Arnhem Land. We pay our respects to them and their elders both past and present.
The Yirrkala bark paintings are held in the ANMM collection and were purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery.
The museum would like to advise visitors that this exhibition may contain the names of and artwork by deceased Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.
The Gapu-Monuk Saltwater exhibition is a collaboration between the traditional owners of the Blue Mud Bay Region in North-East Arnhem Land and the Australian National Maritime Museum. The exhibition's curators, designers, marketing agency and video producers are all Indigenous, inspired by the leadership of Djambawa Marawili, AM to create a powerful story that connects all Australians.
Helen Anu is a Koey-Buway, Samu Augud (Cassowary) and Sui-Baidham (Black-winged Stilt and Shark) Clan Woman of the Zei Gub (South West Winds) from the Top Western cluster of the Torres Strait Islands.
Helen has worked as a cultural practitioner in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts, Culture and Media Sector for 25 years, and currently works in Indigenous Programs at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
She assists with the delivery of Indigenous-specific projects, cultural outreach, engagement and exhibitions, including highlighting the narrative of new and existing works held within the museum's Indigenous collections, and supporting the transmission of traditional and contemporary Saltwater and Freshwater stories.
Beau James is from the Mununjali clan of the Yugambeh Nation from South East Queensland, with links to Stradbroke Island. Currently working as the Indigenous Programs Manager for the Australian National Maritime Museum, their responsibilities include the development of cultural programs, events and exhibitions focusing on the Museum's Indigenous collection.
Working collaboratively with communities, artists and art centres throughout Australia, Beau has curated innovative exhibitions both nationally and internationally and sourced exciting new works, intertwining the traditional with the contemporary to further highlight and explore Indigenous culture and the connection to Saltwater and Freshwater country.
Nicole Monks is a trans-disciplinary artist of Yamatji Wajarri, Dutch and English heritage. Living and practicing in Redfern, Nicole is informed by her cross-cultural identity and her work takes its focus from storytelling, as a way to connect the past with the present and future.
A designer by trade, Nicole works with furniture and objects, textiles, video, installation and performance. Nicole’s practice weaves together Aboriginal history and philosophy with contemporary Western thought.
In addition to her solo practice, Nicole is the founder of blackandwhite creative. She is currently on the Design Advisory Panel for the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS).
Malinda is from Wiyabal clan, and is the founder of Wyhldfisch Productions, as well as a published author.
Her career of 34 years encompasses Logie Award-winning TV programs, international award-winning television commercials, documentaries and corporate films.
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© Copyright 2013
Australia National Maritime Museum
Every day 9.30 am - 5 pm
Extend to 6.00 pm in January
Closed Xmas Day 25 Dec.
2 Murrey Street
sydney NSW 2000, AU
+61 2 9298 3777