'An attack by war canoes' c.1955
The legendary tale of An attack by war canoes c 1955 is depicted in seven bark paintings that, as a group, are read from right to left. The story begins with a group of men from Bickerton Island, between Groote and the mainland, setting out with their weapons: spears and spear-throwers. They board their fleet of canoes, with sails made from tree branches. They land on the beach and anchor the canoes, from where they march to the attack.
The Bickerton men find a man and his five wives, whom they surround. The man is a skilful fighter, as one would need to be to keep so many wives, and he eludes his attackers. He spears a number of the Bickerton men and finally drives them away.
Characteristic of bark painting on Groote Eylandt, the background colour is black derived from manganese as the island has some of the world's largest deposits of the mineral. The composition of each bark enhances the action it describes. For example, the strength of the attacking force is suggested in the first two barks where the armed attackers march in regimented lines, and the fleet of canoes at sea is similarly organised.
In the mid 1950s, the Rev L M Howell, who had been based at the Anglican Church Mission at Angurugu on Groote Eylandt, commissioned eight sets of narrative paintings from Thomas Nanjiwarra Amagula, MBE (1926--1989) and Bill Namiayangwa. These became the National Gallery of Australia's first major acquisition of Aboriginal art in 1972.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010