Dulka Warngiid is a brilliant conceptual vision of Bentinck Island, Queensland, anchored in the contributors’ deep attachment to seven distinct story places on their tiny island. The Kaiadilt lived on Bentinck Island until the early 1940s, when they made their first contact with Europeans and were subsequently moved to Mornington Island mission. The seven surviving Kayaldilt-language speakers who painted this work have thus traversed the whole history of Indigenous-European contact in their lifetime. Their late and unforeseeable outpouring of artistic talent is powerful testimony to seventy years of invisible learning that form the basis of the artists’ cosmology and the unwritten cartographic tradition.
This workcombines seven individual responses, original and intuitive, from women who have spent their lives seeing the world through Kaiadilt eyes. Cultural memories of incidents and details of their lives, consolidated in diaspora, underlie the artists’ very distinct ways of seeing and patterning the world and endowing it with meaning that is expressed in the work’s different tone colours, motifs, brushstrokes and rhythms. To the far left, Dawn Naranatjil depicts the soft red mudstones that are observed on the beaches; while Paula Paul’s shells, shown on the beach in the upper left, echo the way women cook cockle shells, by laying them in pleasing patterns in the ashes. Sally Gabori represents the amazing brightness of the sun on the sea at a place known as Dingkarri, her elder brother’s birthplace. May Moodoonuthi paints the rocks that cover the beaches, and Amy Loogatha records the red of the saltpan and the blue of the estuary at Dangkankuru. In the upper right, Netta Loogatha conceptualises the complex interplay of cosmological forces that have created a story place on her Country; whereas in the lower right Ethel Thomas paints marrayak (octopus), which also means a wasting disease that occurs if a food taboo is violated.