Ginger Riley Munduwalawala was born in south-eastern Arnhem Land, in the coastal salt-water country of the Mara people. He grew up in the bush and intermittently went to school at the Roper River Mission, later the Ngukurr Aboriginal community.
Seeking employment and the chance to travel, Riley worked as a stockman and labourer on Nutwood Downs Station and elsewhere in the Northern Territory from the 1950s onwards.
During the 1950s, as a result of a chance encounter with Albert Namatjira, Riley resolved to be an artist. When work declined in the late 1970s, Riley moved back to the Gulf country and to Ngukurr. Here, around 1986 or 1987, he began to paint, and established the pictorial style of landscape painting that has earned him important recognition both locally and overseas.
In 1992, Riley won The Alice Prize and produced a series of works for the new Australian Embassy in Beijing. The following year he won the First National Heritage Commission Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award and began to sign his paintings, after being inspired by his visit to London for the Aratjara: Art of the First Australians exhibition where he saw signed works of Picasso and Van Gogh. In 1994 Riley's work was included in Tyerrabarrbowaryaou II, an exhibition prepared for the Havana Biennale, in Cuba.
In recognition of his great achievements as an artist, Riley was awarded an Australia Council Fellowship for 1997?98 and a major retrospective of his work was held at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1997.
In July 2000 the Federal Court of Australia decided that substantial native title rights existed on the old St Vidgeon's Station and on lands adjoining the Roper, Cox and Limmen Bight Rivers near the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory.