Trial Bay is located between Caledon Bay to the north and above the larger Blue Mud Bay on the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Deep inside Trial Bay the Marrakulu clan claim ownership to land and sea though the actions and events of Ancestor Beings as they travelled into this country imbuing both land and sea.
The mark of ownership is sung, danced and painted in Marrakulu ritual through the stringybark woodlands and stony country, through the freshwaters running into the Gurka’wuy River into Trial Bay. Mixing with the saltwaters through sacred mangroves with froth and bubble they run out deeper into the Bay with the outgoing tide, past boulders and rocky islets. Through that the power and knowledge associated with Marrakulu Rom (law) washes back to shore.
This country is associated with the Wawalak Sisters, sacred goannas, Wuyal (the Sugarbag Man), and the original inhabitants of Gurka’wuy since these times, the Djuwany people. The Djuwany were the first people of this country who practised the ritual according to the Creators on the beaches, who hunted the stony country and waters of both the River and Trial Bay.
This painting refers to all this and a sacred and solitary rocks in Trial Bay. These rocks are hidden as they are in the Bay - as round lumps of granite its top coloured by roosting birds, or white sea foam associated with turbulent and agitating waters created by particular tide and wind. Lines of foam are created on the waters surface by the same conditions. These lines connect Bamurruŋu to the mainland of Gurka’wuy by a manifestation of the sacred white feathered string.The red in the ribbons of an organic slick are often referred to as coral spawn. The waters of the Bay that have first washed over, depending on the tide, the roots and the stems of the sacred mangroves on the Gurka’wuy shore - Rulirrika and Gathul Makarr.
Fish are sung swimming up to Bamurruŋu are referred to as Marparrarr or milk fish, somewhat like a large mullet. According to the artist these were once people of the stone country behind where the Marrakulu have now settled close to the mouth of the Gurka’wuy river. They turned to Marparrarr on reaching the shore and following the feathered string to Bamurruŋu, encompassing the rock.
The Beings of Marparrarr were the ‘same’ as the original inhabitants of Gurka’wuy, in this manifestation, populating Marrakulu sea country as land totems do in this area. Yolŋu of this area speak of a hole submerged under the rock, from where bubbles are seen rising to the surface, sometimes bursting forth with a rush. The bubbles are seen as a life force and a direct Ancestral connection for the Marrakulu. The Marparrarr have knowledge of this special phenomenon as do the law men. Here was a ‘statue’ for Mali Djuluwa Makaratjpi.
When the Marrakulu perform ritual dance for the events depicted in this painting participants move towards a held spear representing the steadfastness of the rock, splitting the dancers who then surround Bamurruŋa moving as does the sea to song and rhythm of Yidaki and Bilma. This is mirrored by the actions of the fish themselves when they meet a net or other obstacle (such as this rock) when they leap into the dimension of air to free themselves from the mortal coil.
This piece is made from stringybark (Eucalyptus Tetradonta) which is harvested from the tree in the late Wet Season (February - June). Ṉuwayak means bark. The bark is usually initially heated intensely over a fire and then laid down flat for some weeks. After the surface is sanded smooth a layer of red paint is usually the first to go down.
The paints used are earth pigments. The red (Meku), yellow (Gaŋgul) and black (Gurrṉan) are provided by rubbing rocks of these colours against a grinding stone and then adding water and PVA glue in small quantities. A new batch of paint is prepared or renewed every few minutes as it dries or is used up. After an outline of the composition is laid down the marwat or crosshatching commences. This is applied using a brush made of a few strands of straight human hair usually from a young woman or girl. The artist charges the marwat (brush) with the paint and then paints away from themselves in a straight line. Each stroke requires a fresh infusion of pigment.
The last layer to be applied is almost always the white clay or Gapan, which is made from kaolin, harvested from special sites. This also has water and glue added after being crushed into a fine powder. Artists will paint their own or their family’s clan designs or will create decorative pieces. Some decorative designs are: wayin (bird), guḏurrku (brolga), guya (fish), mäna (shark), bäru (crocodile), gunydjuḻu (lizard), dharpa (plant), boṉba (butterfly), miyapunu (sea turtle), djunuŋgayaŋu (dugong).