The hollow log ceremony c.1962 natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark 205.0 x 70.0cm (80 11/16 x 27 9/16in).
PROVENANCE Painted in the Millingimbi area, Central Arnhem Land, c. 1962 Collected by Dorothy Bennett for the Bennett-Campbell Australian Aboriginal Art Trust Aboriginal Art Show, Farmer's Blaxland Gallery, Sydney, 1963, catalogue No.7 The Louis Allen Collection, Palo Alto, California, United States of America, acquired from the above exhibition Important Aboriginal Art, Sotheby's, Melbourne, 29 June 1998, lot 85 (illus.) Dr Reg Grundy AO, OBE and Mrs Chambers Grundy, acquired in 1998
EXHIBITED Aboriginal Art Show, Blaxland Gallery, Sydney, 1963, titled 'Fan Palm Dance showing the dance of the sacred wallabies'
LITERATURE Keepers of the Secrets: Aboriginal Art from Arnhem Land, exh. cat., Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, pp. 13-15
Binyinyuwuy is one of the most renowned Yolngu artists. This painting is possibly his largest work and was almost certainly painted at Milingimbi in central Arnhem Land or on the mainland opposite at Nanggalala. The accompanying documentation refers to the painting having been collected by the Bennett-Campbell expedition and dates it to 1965. However a painting that fits its description was exhibited in 1963 at the Aboriginal Art Show at the Blaxland Gallery in Sydney. The most expensive painting in this exhibition item number 7, by Bininyuwui [sic] is referred to as 'Fan Palm Dance showing the dance of the sacred wallabies' a description that is repeated in the documentation for this painting. The exhibition was organised by the Bennett-Campbell Australian Aboriginal Art Trust. Dorothy Bennett was secretary to Stuart Scougall and travelled with him and Tony Tuckson to the Tiwi Islands and Yirrkala in 1959 and 1960 to acquire foundational Aboriginal works for the Art Gallery of New South Wales collections. She subsequently became one of the main collectors and dealers in Aboriginal art. The Blaxland catalogue notes that the paintings were obtained by Bennett during the previous ten months travelling through Arnhem Land and the Northern Territory. The great American collector of Aboriginal art, Louis Allen, recalled that he met Dorothy Bennett at the time of the Blaxland Gallery exhibition and it seems he bought the painting then, just as he had began to develop his collection.
In addition to being a work of outstanding beauty, the painting has a number of rare features. The painting includes panels from both moieties. The central and upper panels are connected to the Dhuwa moiety story of the Wawilak sisters' journey across Arnhem Land. The sisters chased a rock wallaby through the country, never quite managing to catch up with it. The painting shows the fan palms bursting with colour and life in the open forest, refreshed by rain. A goanna, at first almost invisible, sharing colours with the fan palms, can be seen poised on the ground. The lower panel represents a waterhole belonging to the artist's mother's clan, the Gupapuyngu of the Yirritja moiety. We can see the long-necked freshwater tortoises in the waterhole; the zigzag pattern is the streamers of weeds that cling to their limbs. The lower right-hand panel shows the plains kangaroo (garrtjambal) and the Yirritja lightning snake. A very unusual feature is that the kangaroos (and also the wallaby) are represented in the style of x-ray art. Yolngu paintings rarely show any of the internal organs of animals and these detailed representations are rare indeed. The painting shows Binyinyuwuy's extraordinary artistry and his ability to enter other stylistic traditions. It also reflects the fact that the artist lived on the boundaries of Western Arnhem Land and would have been familiar with the rock art and bark painting traditions of the people to the west.
Professor Howard Morphy
1 Michael A. O'Ferrall's 'Interview with Louis Allen' in Keepers of the Secrets: Aboriginal Art from Arnhem Land, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, pp. 13-15 This painting was acquired from the Blaxland exhibition for a price of 150 guineas. In an interview with Michael O'Ferrall many years later Louis Allen recalled the Sydney presses reaction to the purchase stating, 'During much of the time that I collected art in Australia there was very little interest....On one occasion, a Sydney newspaper got wind of my search and ran a Sunday article with the headline, "Yank pays 150 for abo painting". The same painting was worth 100 times that 25 years later.'