This is a Maḏarrpa clan painting of the sacred area referred to as Garraŋali where the sacred Bäru (crocodile) nest.
The Maḏarrpa people were led by Wakuthi (born c1921) who remained a powerful and influential man although almost blind and known as “Banbay” - 'blind one' until his death in 2005. In the setting of this coastal outstation, the elements of this painting incorporate themes of fire and water and describe the ancestral events in which Bäru, the crocodile, plays a central role.
Bäru was camped at a fire when his wife Dhamiliŋu, went hunting for Mänyduŋ (snails). Bäru was sleeping and his wife was eating the snails, throwing the empty shells on his head. Bäru became wild and threw his wife into the gurtha (fire).
It was by being burned by the fire following this argument, that Bäru is said to have been scarred badly resulting in the characteristic skin of the crocodile. It also accounts for his wallowing in water to soothe his burns and his continuing fear of fire. Bäru, as an important ancestor of the Yirritja moiety, played a role in naming areas of land belonging to various Yirritja clans.
Bäru said, “My tribe will be....”, and proceeded to give names to all the places and people. He also went to Maningrida - they have a story for him there but they have different language and different miny’tji (designs). They call themselves Maḏarrpa people. At Roper there are also people who call themselves Maḏarrpa.
Crocodiles never eat food fresh. They take it to a special place called Ŋulwurr or Garraŋali, and let it rot before eating it there later on. This painting is of that site which doubles as nest.
So Garraŋali is the Maḏarrpa clan’s crocodile nest. The Maḏarrpa call themselves of Bäru. Bäru leaves the beaches of Yathikpa to go up stream to the inland site of Garraŋali. Freshwater wells rise from the black soil plains that sustain an oasis like jungle. King tides will reach this far creating a sacred fertile and brackish mix. This is where Bäru makes its nest. It is these waters at Garraŋali that contain the Maḏarrpa soul.
This powerful and dangerous place is affected by springs of freshwater and tidal surge from the northern coast of Blue Mud Bay - a place where the two waters mix to become a fertile one. Ancestral Fires came through this area imbued with the powers of Bäru the Ancestral Crocodile - power totem for the Maḏarrpa clan. The waters are sacred because as the Maḏarrpa will tell you - they are from this water and upon death and through appropriate ritual they will return to this font of Maḏarrpa ancestral souls. Garraŋali is protected as a special place of significance for the Maḏarrpa by the intense heat of the lingering Ancestral Fire and the real presence of Bäru protecting its nests.