Ross Yulidjirri Born: 1975 Tribe: Kunwinjku Area: Oenpelli, Arnhemland
Ross is becoming one of the most famous of the younger painters of the Kunwinjku tribe at Oenpelli. Although relatively young, his work, and particularly the fine crosshatching, (rarrk) is regarded as superior to that of many of the older artists.
Ross is the son of Paul Yulidjirri, who was not an artist, and so after he had gone through his first ceremony to make him a young man Ross was taught by his uncle, world famous painter Thompson Yulidjirri, whose works hang in major art galleries and have been illustrated in authentic art books. He is the keeper of the sacred myths of the Kunwinjku, and is gradually passing these on to Ross.
His mother, Mary Yulidjirri, was married to Bobby Nganjmirra, regarded by many as the greatest artist of the Kunwinjku tribe, and she and Bobby both handed on their 'dreamings' for Ross to paint. By so doing Ross has now become a very important man of stature. His traditional land, owned by his father and uncle, is Nimbuwah Rock, an outstanding feature of the landscape between Oenpelli and Maningrida.
A painting of Nimbuwah Rock, in which the spirit of his ancestor the Rainbow Serpent resides, was entered in the 1998 National Heritage Art Awards, which was judged in Canberra in April, and was accepted for hanging in the old Parliament House from thousands of entries. The very fact of this acceptance places him in the forefront of traditional Aboriginal artists. This painting was selected to go on tour with the National Heritage Art Commission.
Towering into the sky and dominating the surrounding country, Nimbuwah is an outlier near the western Arnhem Land escarpment. Nimbuwah is a sacred site for the Kunwinjku people.
In the time of nayubyungki, the First People, a tall young man named Nimbuwah came from the south, near Pine Creek, bringing with him Gularrmundidj, his widowed mother. They were searching for a good place to live and eventually to metamorphose into rocks.
This was the dream of all people living at that time: to have their spirits enshrined forever in sacred rocks and revered by future generations. Ideally they preferred to choose the time they would metamorphose, but sometimes dangerous events or the sin of breaking tabus precipitated their transformations.
At the first place they decided to settle Nimbuwah and Gularmundidj were turned away by Yirriyu, Nimbuwah's mother's nephew, who claimed the site as his own. So the son and mother retreated further to the east and made camp near Cooper's Creek, about 42 kilometres (26 miles) from Gunbalanya, where fresh running water and plenty of food were available. Here Nimbuwah took for himself a young girl, Warramundud.
However a mighty hunter, Djiribidj, also wanted Warramundud, and so he plotted to kill his rival Nimbuwah. Djiribidj came across Nimbuwah one day when he was carrying his young wife because she was tired. He hurled his stone axe at Nimbuwah with such force that it severed his head from his body. Warramundud was flung out of Nimbuwah's arms and landed heavily onto the ground, where she turned into a rock next to her husband, who had already transformed himself into a tall rock. The stone head of the axe separated from its shaft and flew away; the place where it landed is now a small rock. The mother, grief stricken at the loss of her son and terrified of the murderer, also changed herself into a rock. Djiribidj became a pigeon and flew away.
Nimbuwah rock is shown in the centre of this painting. The boulder on its top represents Nimbuwah's head and the bottom section, his body. His mother's spirit is in the rock on his right, and the spirit of his young wife is in the rock on his left. These rocks and the area in front of them are sacred and must not be approached without permission from the traditional owners, but the artist states that the area behind Nimbuwah is not sacred. It was there that his father spent most of his childhood, living in a cave with his family. His family taught him the story of this sacred site and how to record it in painting, so that the deeds of Nimbuwah would live on forever.