Bringing Gove Together

Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre

Contact Details
(08) 8987 1701
(08) 8987 2701


Tuffin Rd
Yirrkala, NT 0880

The Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre and Museum is in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community on the northeastern tip of the Top End of the Northern Territory, approximately 700km east of Darwin. Our primarily Yolngu (Aboriginal) staff of ten services Yirrkala and the approximately twenty-five homeland centres in the radius of 200km.

Narritjin MaymuruYirrkala Arts was established formally in 1975 but art has been created here since time immemorial and shared with non-Yolngu since their arrival. In the 1960s Narritjin Maymuru set up his own beachfront gallery from which he sold art that now graces many major museums and private collections. He is counted among the art centre's main inspirations and founders, and his picture hangs in the museum. His vision of Yolngu-owned business to sell Yolngu art that started with a shelter on a beach has now grown into a thriving business that as of 2005 puts over a million dollars into the pockets of the community's artists every year.

The old 'hospital' or clinic in which many of the artists of today were born was converted to become the 'craft shop' and over the years there have been a number of additions and renovations. The current centre is an impressive building belying its humble beginnings. The additions include: a Museum (1988); screen print workshop and extra gallery spaces (1996); and the Yirrkala Church Panels annexe (1998). A theatrette and multi-media centre is scheduled for completion in 2007.

The Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Museum displays a collection of works specifically created for it in the mid-1970s and early 80s by elders which provides an outline of the kinship structure of the Yolngu world. The jewels of the collection are the two four metre tall Yirrkala Church Panels (1962-3) that have been described as amongst the most important Australian art in existence.


this way to BukuThe community is Aboriginal land but no permit is required to visit us and the Community Store from the nearby mining town of Nhulunbuy or the local Gove Airport (which has daily flights on the Darwin-Cairns run by QANTAS as well as Air North from Darwin and Groote Eylandt). Permission from the Northern Land Council (08 8920 5100) is required to drive here from Darwin or Katherine (approximately ten hours). The road is impassable in the Wet Season (from Dec-May). Yirrkala is a dry area where alcohol is forbidden without a permit. There are two hotels in the vicinity, the Walkabout Lodge and the Gove Peninsula Motel, and several hire car firms. Camping is available in designated areas administered by Dhimurru Land Management (08 8987 3992).

The art centre is open 8 am - 4.30 pm Monday - Friday and 9 am - noon on Saturday. Entrance to the Museum is $2 for adults.

Saltwater Collection: Yirrkala Bark Paintings of Sea Country

RANGIYolngu culture is based on a strong sense of connection to land and sea. Yirrkala is ancestral land belonging to the Rirratjingu clan. Yolngu have traded and intermarried with Macassans since c.1100-1600 AD. In 1935 when the Federal Government was considering a 'punitive expedition' (massacre) against the Yolngu, Mawalan Marika invited the missionary Wilbur Chaseling to establish a mission at Yirrkala.

In the following years the leadership of the Yolngu resisted their dispossession by: government; missionaries; potential Japanese invasion; and Bauxite miners. In addition to the Yirrkala Church Panels and Yirrkala Bark Petition, they have used their art to assert their connection to land in; the Gove Land Rights Case; the Woodward Royal Commission; the Barunga Statement,; the Yirrkala Homeland Movement; the Land Rights Act (NT) 1976; the Both Ways education bilingual curriculum; and the world renowned contemporary music band Yothu Yindi. In recent years the Garma Festival and Wukidi Larrakitj Installations have used miny'tji to continue to rebut the myth of 'Terra Nullius' (that Australia was 'unoccupied country' before colonisation).

Under Yolngu Law the 'Land' extends to include sea. Both land and sea are connected in a single cycle of life for which the Yolngu hold the songs and designs. To demonstrate their rights and responsibilities over specific areas of both coast and sea and to protect those same marine environments from abuse by outsiders the landowners combined to make the Saltwater Collection of Yirrkala Bark Paintings of Sea Country in 1997. The Collection of 80 bark paintings made by 47 Yolngu artists is featured in a publication of the same name (see Appendix for details).

After a national tour (1998-2001) the Saltwater Collection is now held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney and forms part of the Yolngu legal case for recognition of these rights.


  • 1994 NATSIAA Dundiwuy Wanambi Best Bark
  • 1995 NATSIAA Yananymul Mununggurr Best bark
  • 1996 NATSIAA Djambawa Marawili Best Bark
  • 1996 NATSIAA Naminapu Maymuru-White Best Work on Paper
  • 1997 NATSIAA Yanggarriny Wunungmurra First Prize
  • 1997 NATSIAA Djutjadjutja Mununggurr Best Bark
  • 1998 NATSIAA Wukun Wanambi Best Bark
  • 1998 NIHAA Naminapu Maymuru-White Runner up
  • 2000 NIHAA Wolpa Wanambi First Prize
  • 2002 NATSIAA Gawirrin Gumana First Prize
  • 2003 NATSIAA Galuma Maymuru Best Bark
  • 2004 NATSIAA Gulumbu Yunupingu First Prize
  • 2005 NATSIAA Banduk Marika Best Bark
  • 2005 NATSIAA Naminapu Maymuru-White Best 3D Work
  • 2006 NATSIAA Baluka Maymuru Best 3D Work
  • 2006 Vibe Magazine Deadliest Visual Artist of the Year Gulumbu Yunupingu
  • 2008 TOGART Contemporary Art Award Djirrirra Wunungmurra First Prize
  • 2008 Xtrata Coal Emerging Indigenous Art Award Gunybi Ganambarr First Prize
  • 2008 NATSIAA Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (& the Mulka Project) Best 3D Work

(NATSIAA- National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award NIHAA-National Indigenous Heritage Art Award)


  • Buwayak-InvisibilityAnnandale galleries March 2003
  • Buku Larrnggay Mulka Saltwater : Yirrkala bark paintings of sea country (Sydney : Jennifer Isaacs Publishing, 1999)
  • Campbell MacKnight The Voyage to Marege' : Macassan Trepangers in Northern Australia (Carlton, Vic., Melbourne University Press, 1976)
  • Charles Mountford Records of the American-Australian expedition to Arnhem Land, volume 1 Art, Myth and Symbolism (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1954)
  • Howard Morphy Journey to the Crocodiles Nest (Canberra: Institute of Aboriginal Studies Press, 1984)
  • Howard Morphy Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal System of Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991)
  • Morphy Howard Aboriginal Art (London: Phaidon, 1998)
  • Wally Caruana and Nigel Lendon The painters of the Wawilag Sisters Story 1937-1997 (Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1997)
  • Gillian Hutcherson Djalkiri Wanga: The land is my Foundation: 50 years of Aboriginal art from Yirrkala, Northeast Arnhem Land (Nedlands, W.A. : The University of W.A. Berndt Museum of Anthropology, 1995)
  • Gillian Hutcherson Gong-Wapitja, Women and Art from Yirrkala Aboriginal Studies Press 1998
  • Judith Ryan Spirit in Land, Bark paintings from Arnhem Land, National Gallery of Victoria 1990
  • Rirratjingu Ethnobotany:Aboriginal Plant use from Yirrkala, Arnhem Land, Australia Parks and Wildlife Commission NT 1995
  • Helen Groger-Wurm Australian Aboriginal Bark Paintings and their Mythological Interpretations (Canberra; Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1973)
  • Anne Wells This is their Dreaming (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1971)
  • Yirrkala Film Project, Film Australia (23 titles 1981-95)
  • Yothu Yindi discography 1988-2003
  • Williams, Nancy "Australian Aboriginal Art at Yirrkala: Introduction and Development of Marketing" In Nelson Graburn (ed) Ethnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural expressions from the Fourth World p266-284 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976) ---

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