Mulkun Wirrpanda – One Lore, Two Law, Outlaw: Dhakiyarr vs The King — 25 October to 8 December 2007

Mulkun Wirrpanda, recent bark and pole paintings

25 October to 8 December 2007

Curated by Andrew Blake in association with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre

Dhakiyarr vs The King


In 1933 in remote north-east Arnhem Land, Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda, a Yolngu elder, was found guilty of spearing a policeman, Constable McColl, who had chained up his wife. This was Dhakiyarr’s land and that was his law.

Dhakiyarr went to Darwin to explain his actions and his people’s ways to the Northern Territory Supreme Court. For the first time in Australian history there was organised and vocal support for Dhakiyarr bringing the treatment of Aboriginal people to international attention. He was sentenced to death.

An appeal to the High Court made this the first case of an Aboriginal Australian to be heard in that court. The Court’s decision overturning the jury’s verdict and the judge’s sentence affirmed the right of Aboriginal people to a fair trial in Australian courts. The case, however, ended in tragedy. Within 24 hours of his release Dhakiyarr vanished.

The exhibition and accompanying seminar are set against the background of the Howard government's abrupt 'national emergency' response to child abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The legislation includes a ban on consideration of cultural background or customary law in sentencing. This exhibition takes up the struggle for equal justice.

The unilateral withdrawal of funding (CDEP community development program) for art centres and artists working on outstations will have a catastrophic impact on the future of 90 or so art centres representing some 6,000 Indigenous artists. Productive, economically viable jobs are being transitioned into inappropriate welfare-based activities. And the Intervention still fails to redress the historic deficits in health, housing, and education.


About the Artist


Mulkun Wirrpanda is the daughter of the great Yolngu leader Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda. As the eldest and most knowledgeable for the Dhudi-Djapu clan from Dhuruputjpi, Mulkun Wirrpanda is acknowledged as a leader. Mulkun is one of the few Yolngu women to have this status.

Dhakiyarr’s descendents have taken steps to restore his honour. Seventy years after his disappearance, the Wirrpanda family held a Wukidi or burial ceremony in Darwin, a ceremony to resolve a conflict between tribes that have wronged each other. A commemorative artwork was ceremonially installed in the Darwin Supreme Court.

Mulkun Wirrpanda paints Dhudi-djapu miny'tji (sacred clan design) that depicts her land at Dhuruputjpi. Mulkun was an early practitioner of works without figurative imagery within the miny'tji. Until recently the painting of this 'raw' miny'tji was restricted to ceremonial use. The work is always done using natural earth pigments (ochres). Mulkun usually paints in the Yalata and Dharrangi areas of her clan estate Dhuruputjpi.

Mulkun paints on bark, larrakitj (memorial poles) and yidaki (didgeridoos) and is a talented carver, weaver and print maker. Her work has been exhibited throughout Australia and in Asia.

Mulkun Wirrpanda is widow to Wakuthi Marawili, a Madarrpa clan leader. She is also mother (by kinship) to senior artist Djambawa Marawili who chairs the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre and Museum.

Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre & Museum


This centre, situated in Yirkalla, a small Aboriginal community on the northeastern tip of the Top End, is one of Australia's premier art centres. Artist Djambawa Marawili chairs this culture stronghold. The centre’s primarily Yolngu (Aboriginal) staff of ten services Yirrkala and the twenty-five homeland centres in the radius of 200 km.

The museum houses the famous Yirrkala Church Panels 1962-63 produced to assert the authority of Yolngu power structures and to show Yolngu and Christian beliefs were compatible. They also reveal the designs which underpin Yolngu claim to land and sea.

Artists from the centre regularly participate in major national and international events like the national travelling exhibition Saltwater: Yirrkala Bark Paintings of the Sea Country, Recognising Indigenous Sea Rights (1999), in the Sydney Biennale and Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

Djambawa Marawili, artist and chair of ANKAA (Association of Northern, Kimberly and Arnhem Land Aboriginal Artists) and Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre and Museum made this statement on the Intervention: 
'CDEP is really important for our art centres. With CDEP we can have jobs for our people in art centres. They get skills and qualifications. Galleries in Australia and overseas have to remember Indigenous artists and seriously think. This intervention is going to affect them too.'

Opening talk 24 October 2007, 6–8pm

Marion Scrymgour

Member for Arafura in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly

In the presence of Mulkun Wirrpanda






Cross Conversation: 27 October, 3–5pm

Sarah Pritchard, lawyer, on the human rights issues at stake in the Northern Territory intervention.

Chips MacKinolty, artist, on the impact of the Intervention on artists and art centres in the Top End.


Cross Conversation: 8 December, 3-5pm

Professor Howard Morphy on the art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda’s cross-cultural legacy.
Howard Morphy is Director of the Research School of Humanities and Head of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at ANU. He is also honorary curator of Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, and adjunct curator of the Kluge-Ruhe Research Centre, University of Virginia.



Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre:
Dhakiyarr Biography Australian Archives:

Northern Territory Intervention
Darwin local action -
Women for Wik -
Central Land Council -

pdf_icon.jpg pdf_icon.jpg Download: Marion Scrymgour, 'Whose National Emergency?', Dr Charles Perkins
Oration, Great Hall, Sydney University, 23 October 2007.
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