Helen McCarthy Tyalmuty - Stories of Balgal. May 5 - 19

Balgal is a small Aboriginal community 3 hours west of Darwin. This is Helen McCarthy's Mother's Country. Below you'll find a series of stories of great cultural significance. Stories of creation and dreamtime. Stories told in art, depicted in her paintings. Come along to 17 Bligh Street and see these beautiful pieces from May 5th - May 19th.

Syaw – Fishnet

Fishnets are made by stripping both ends of the middle leaves of a pandanus tree.  After being stripped the women and men roll them together on their mid thigh to make ropes.  The ropes are then twined to make a fishnet.  In the last thirty years, bush dyes have been used to add colour to the stripped pandanus strands.

Rak Balgal

Balgal is my mother’s country.  This painting is my abstract interpretation of Balgal.  

During the wet season it is very lush.  All types of edible bush plums, plants and roots are ready to collect and eat.  The brown, orange and yellow represent the land including the sand which makes up the beaches that hug the sea.  The blue represent the water holes, billabongs and the sea.  The red depicts animals that are hunted and gathered to provide food for all.

Ngalgin – The sea (The creator)

“She’s coming now” my mama Madawin always calls out.  When using the word “she”, mama Madawin is refering to the sea as a woman or of female being.

The sea is boss.  The sea is the creator.  She gave way to make land.  She created the moon, sun, plants, animals, rivers, creeks, waterholes and last but not least, she created the stars to keep her company at night.

Mimarunga e mimelli

The start of the wet until the end of the wet season in Balgal, is a great time to collect and gather berries. There are small types of berries and are sourced after with great eagerness, especially by the children.  They are pink, red and purple in colour.

Marrawuk – Dry Season

This painting depicts the middle of the dry season at Balgul.  During this time my family burns the landscape. This allows for new growth, which allows wallabies, kangaroos and other edible bush foods (animals) to feed. There is also a southerly cool breeze.

Kapak – Burning Rag Ceremony

This is a ceremony performed at Balgal a year after a person has deceased.  This is a sad but also happy event for all tribes who pay their respect by attending and participating.

Poles with coloured materials are hung in a circular area.  A hole is dug and used in the ceremony to burn the deceased’s belongings.  Traditional dancing takes place through the late afternoon into the evening.  Bush foods are traditionally prepared beforehand and eaten by all.

Ilaty –Fire

My grandfather Liman travelled everywhere by either canoe or walking.  One day he paddled over to Badtjalarr Island to go reef fishing and spearing.  He heard his cousin screaming out to him.  Upon arriving at the island, his cousin offered him raw fish for lunch.  My grandfather ran back to the canoe and fetched his firesticks from his warrgarri (dillybag).  He showed his how to make fire and cook fish.  He left his sticks with his cousin and went back to the mainlands of Balgal.  

During the evening he saw that the sea had turned red, orange and yellow.  “Ha! Countrymen bin make big fire” He said as he chuckled to himself.

Durrmu – Body Decoration

White and yellow ochre are used during ceremony on women’s faces and arms during ceremony when dancing. This painting represents the journey travelled by women from different tribes to participate in ceremonies in the northern parts of Australia.

The sound of the dijeridoo is depicted above, followed by a long stretch of red and white through the middle to show respect and their journey.  White ochre dots are used by all wangga dances to dance to wangga songs that are sung by old men.  This is usually accompanied by the sounds of the dijeridoo and clapstick.

Awurrapun – Saltwater Crocodile

At a small creek that runs into the Daly River where different clans resided.  A particular man was an excellent hunter.  He would provide not only his family with his daily catch but other tribes as well.  All the women admired his hunting skills.  This made their husbands jealous.

One day they devised a plan to kill him.  They all went down to the mouth of the creek.  They tied the man in his own fishnet and threw him into the river.  As he thrashed about in the water, big swirls and bubbles appeared.  His wife heard what had happened.  She grabbed her net, tied herself within the net and rolled into the river.  As she thrashed about the net dug into her skin.

The woman did not die nor did her husband.  They turned into saltwater crocodiles that reproduced.  That is how the crocodile was created.

Afturra – Mussels

This painting is about collecting mussels on the coast of Balgal.  The colours chosen represent the sand mud, mussels and mangrove warms which I have also painted.  Collecting mussels usually takes place during the low tide on neap tides.