Western Arnhem Land indigenous art often incorporates use of an “X-ray” technique in which internal organs like heart, lungs and liver are shown. Mick Kubarkku (1922—2008), another old master from the Liverpool River in Western Arnhem Land has used X-ray style here but in a very unusual way. The figure is a Yawkyawk, a mermaid-like female water spirit. The water spirits may leave their homes in watery caves beneath banks of rivers and billabong and come out onto dry land at night and so Mick has shown them with arms and legs as well as the usual fish-tail. Their breasts project out under the arms, another West Arnhem Land artistic convention also used when painting mortal women. He has captured the sinuous movement of the Yawkyawks through the water. But running through the figure is a snake-like shape and he has cleverly blended both the head of the Yawkyawk and snake together. Yawkyawk is said to be the daughter of the great female rainbow serpent Yingarna, a being which gave people their social identities and languages in the beginning. He has brought together mother and daughter into one image. This painting travelled Australia as part of an exhibition of works by Kubarkku and Bardayal Nadjamerrek. She is now back closer to home. In the billabong Mick is using a wily fishing technique in a shallow billabong which has many small fish and freshwater prawns. A hollow log, blocked in one end with grass and weighted down with stones is left in the billabong. Fish and prawns go inside for safety from predators, for shade and cooler temperatures. All the hunter has to do is quickly tilt the open end upwards and the fish and prawns are trapped inside.
As well as being regarded as one of the “old masters” of Arnhem Land art, Peter Marralwanga (1917-1987) was a big family man. He was big — well over 6ft and powerfully built — and his family included five wives and thirty five children. In the top photo he’s been gathering Haemodorum (windilk/bloodroot) buds for his wives to boil up to make beautiful dyes for their superbly finished pandanus fibre baskets. In the bottom photo he’s not painting up for ceremony — just painting up with joy at finding a new supply of a brilliant yellow clay (Karlba) to use in his artwork. His paintings are to be found in most state and national galleries in Australia. This painting depicts Ngalyod, the rainbow serpent and protector of land, dealing with people who have transgressed a law of ritual behaviour. Many of his paintings relate to particular places and are accompanied by cautionary tales of how to behave appropriately in sites of spiritual power.