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'Murrnyi / Murrtjumun', bark painting, native plant species


'Murrnyi / Murrtjumun', bark painting, native plant species

Object information


Murrnyi'/Murrtjumun (Yolngu name)
Grewia retusifolia (Latin name)
'emu berry' (common name)
This plant belongs to the Dhuwa moiety

Cultural information about this plant:
In the songs, this bush belongs to buwata (the Australian bustard or plains turkey) who eats the fruit. But so do we. It is a small plant whose fruit changes from green to an orange and then to a deep honey brown after the rain comes. It is sweet and delicious. The Rirratjingu and Dhudi- Djapu sing buwata.
Most important are the medicinal qualities of this plant in extracting the poison from a boil. A poultice is made from the bark and pith of the root when it has been pounded to separate the fibres and then boiled. This is then applied to the boil, which calms the swelling and the pain of the boil and hastens its healing. A new preparation is made and applied every day until the infection is beaten. Even in the modern day, the Yirrkala Health Centre uses this preparation as its preferred drawing agent in favour of the commercially available Western alternatives such as Magnoplasm.
(Written by Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, 2017)

Botanical information about this plant:
- a multi-stemmed shrub to 1 metre in height, often annual above-ground stems from perennial woody rootstock
- strongly discolorous leaves, lanceolate to elliptic, with serrate margin, to 10 centimetres in length and 4 centimetres in width
- small white to cream flowers
- fruit in the form of a two-lobed red to brown drupe, with thin flesh and large seeds
- grows in open woodlands and forests, often on lower slope; common and widespread across northern Australia
- a tasty fruit eaten by humans, emus and bush turkeys; the plant's common English name reflects this.

Physical description

A botanical painting in natural pigments and ochres on eucalyptus stringy bark, depicting the native plant species Murrnyi / Murrtjumun. The painting features a single stem in the centre with upward pointing leaves branching off it. The background is crosshatched in white and two shades of brown. On the reverse of the bark, the number '4651G' is handwritten in black ink, and there is a 'BUKU-LARRNGAY MULKA' adhesive label attached, including the artist's name and other details.

Statement of significance

The collection consists of nine larrakitj, or painted hollow logs, and 113 bark paintings painted between 2011 and 2014 by Mulkun Wirrpanda, a senior female Yolngu artist at Yirrkala in north east Arnhem Land. These works are a product of Wirrpanda's interest in documenting the ecology of her country following her participation in a joint project with non-Indigeous artists, printmakers and academics, charting the country and yam supply at Blue Mud Bay.

The works in this collection provide a unique visual record of Yolngu knowledge of plants and food-bearing and medicinal species. Wirrpanda depicts aspects of the plants' life cycle across numerous works, including the gestational period through to fruiting and the interconnections between the food source and the extensive freshwater flood plains and rivers, beaches, sandhills, salt flats and estuaries in her Yolngu country.

Object information

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