• Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th, 1898

    Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th, 1898 1898

    John LONGSTAFF

    Full details
    Notes
  • Fire 2

    Fire 2 1989

    Lin Onus Yorta Yorta

    Full details
    Notes
    On his trips to Arnhem Land, Yorta Yorta artist Lin Onus often observed bushland being burnt to regenerate the landscape and to prevent bushfires. Here he depicts a forest of eucalypts suffused with smoke and inflamed with the glow of fire. As in many of Onus’s works from 1987 onwards, the trunks of the trees are marked with rarrk (cross-hatched designs) that reflect his close association with Djinjang artist Jack Wunuwun, his spiritual father. The inclusion of bark and cockatoo feathers evokes the living things that are threatened by fire. The painting also has a personal resonance for Onus because he worked as a volunteer firefighter from 1974 until his death in 1996.
  • Warlukurlangu Jukurrpa (fire country Dreaming)

    Warlukurlangu Jukurrpa (fire country Dreaming) 1988

    Dolly Nampijinpa Daniels Warlpiri; Uni Nampijinpa Martin Warlpiri

    Full details
    Notes
    Fire country dreaming 1988 is a collaborative work by Uni Nampitjinpa and Dolly Nampitjinpa that tells the complex Warlukurlangu jukurrpa (Fire Country Dreaming) through undulations of radiant colour. The painting depicts the great fire created by Lungkarda, the ancestral blue-tongue lizard man, to punish his two sons for killing a sacred kangaroo in the Dreaming. The fire was followed by an immense storm that caused all forms of plant and animal life to flourish.  The location for this Dreaming is Warlukurlangu, south-west of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory.
  • Yari country

    Yari country 1989

    Rover Thomas Kukatja; Wangkajunga

    Full details
    Notes

    Rover Thomas was born in about 1926 at Kunawarritji (Well 33) on the Canning Stock Route in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. After spending much of his life as a stockman, Thomas moved to Warmun in the 1970s and began painting for a non-Aboriginal audience in the early 1980s and has since become an outstanding contemporary artist.

    Yari country represents the story of one of the Wati Kutjarra (Two Men) of Kukatja/Wangkajunga mythology who is perishing of thirst in a time of severe drought and drinks from two poisoned yari (milky water) billabongs. Weakened from the poison, he makes camp and lights a fire to keep warm. The fire rages out of control and the old man is burnt to death. At this point in the desert, the old man’s spirit enters into and becomes the land.

    Details of the old man’s story are symbolised as four sections in the composition: the black rectangle represents junpa (charcoal) surrounded on two sides by expanses of yari (milky water), and the red-ochre section represents wala (desert) where he is perishing of thirst.

    The fire raged out of control and the old man, unable to escape from the flames, was burnt to death. His presence in the landscape is indicated by the black bar depicting his club. The details of the old man’s story are symbolised as four sections in the composition. The black rectangle represents charcoal surrounded on two sides by expanses of yari (poisonous water). The red ochre section represented wala (desert) where the old man was dying of thirst.


Bushfires will always be a part of Australia’s environmental landscape. We cannot escape the grief they bring or ignore the scars they leave behind. But fire can also be a positive force for renewal and regeneration and holds a special place in the lives of Indigenous Australians who have recorded fire’s significance in their art and ceremonies.

  • The devastation of bushfire

    The subject of Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th, 1898 by John Longstaff is the devastating bushfire that ravaged Gippsland in the summer of 1897–1898. Longstaff visited Gippsland in late February 1898 to view the fires first-hand and collect material for his painting that was exhibited in his Melbourne studio later that year.2

  • Fire and regeneration

    Seasonal burning is practised by Indigenous people to guard against bushfires and to regenerate the natural environment. The ability to make fire is a critical element that has allowed Indigenous people to flourish for more than 50,000 years in the Australian environment. Fire is therefore enshrined in designs, songs and dances bequeathed by ancestral beings and passed down through generations by patrilineal descent.

    On trips to Arnhem Land, Lin Onus often observed bushland being intentionally burnt to regenerate the landscape and to prevent bushfires. Here he depicts a forest of eucalypts suffused with smoke and illuminated by the glow of fire. The trunks of the trees are marked with rarrk (cross-hatched designs) that reflect Onus’s close association with Djinang artist Jack Wunuwun, his spiritual father.3 The use of these designs on realistic eucalypts asserts that this is Aboriginal land.

  • Fire Dreaming

    Fire country dreaming 1988 is a collaborative work by Uni Nampitjinpa and Dolly Nampitjinpa that tells the complex Warlukurlangu jukurrpa (Fire Country Dreaming) through undulations of radiant colour.

    The painting depicts the great fire created by Lungkarda, the ancestral blue-tongue lizard man, to punish his two sons for killing a sacred kangaroo in the Dreaming. The fire was followed by an immense storm that caused all forms of plant and animal life to flourish. The location for this Dreaming is Warlukurlangu, south-west of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory.4

    While fire is not immediately apparent in Rover Thomas’s painting Yari Country 1989, its presence is woven into the story that informs the painting’s creation.

    The painting tells the Dreaming story of an old spirit man, one of the Wati Kutjara (Two Men), who is perishing of thirst in a time of severe drought and drinks from two poisoned yari (milky water) billabongs. Weakened from the poison, he makes camp and lights a fire to keep warm. The fire rages out of control and he is burnt to death. At this point in the desert, the old man’s spirit enters into and becomes the land.

    Details of the old man’s story are symbolised in the composition: the black rectangle represents junpai (charcoal) surrounded on two sides by expanses of yari (milky water), and the red-ochre section represents wala (desert) where he is perishing of thirst.

Endnotes


  • 2 Terence Lane in Bushfire: our Community Responds, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003.
  • 3 Judith Ryan in Bushfire: our Community Responds, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003.
  • 4 Judith Ryan in Bushfire: our Community Responds, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003.