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Malaluba’s grandfather survivor of their people by Rhonda Hagan 1 October 2013


alaluba Gumana entered her bark painting in to the 30th Telstra Indigenous Art Awards for the first time and didn’t expect to win anything. In fact, her story is one of fascination after her family and community were wiped out during one of many massacres in Australia in the early 1900s. In Andrew McMillan’s book Guide to East Arnhem Land there is mention of a surveyor who went missing, and a punitive party were sent out to punish the people who they thought had killed him. The Aboriginal people from around the regions in East Arnhem Land were massacred, including Malaluba’s family, in Gangan, about 3 hours south of Yirrkala in the Northern Territory. Malaluba said her grandfather, Butja Butjami, was the only survivor of the Gangan massacre because he hid under the lily pads in the river, watching as the intruders rode their horses up and down the shoreline. The surveyor who was thought to have been killed, unexpectedly to everyone’s surprise walked in to a camp a few weeks later. Malaluba’s family have survived and lives on; she is now an artist recognised for her talent. Malaluba has a special technique of using only a few colours, green, brown, pink, white and black. Malaluba makes up her colours

Malaluba Gumana with her ochre on bark, Dhatam. Gangan, Miwatj Language. Image: Rhonda Hagan

using a special sponge technique that she hopes her children and grandchildren will learn from her. Her painting ‘Dhatam’ is the story of Wititj - of storm and monsoon in the ancestral past. It has particular reference to the mating of the Rainbow Serpent during the beginning of the wet season. Malaluba said she couldn’t

believe she had won. “I was happy when I was told I won the bark painting award,” she said. “I started painting when I was about 20, so it’s been about 40 years. This is the first time I’ve entered in to a competition. My family and community is happy for me to be here.”

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Malaluba's grandfather survivor of their people