Mowanjum and Albert Barunga: More than just a hand on the wall - Crocodile Dreaming - CycleBlaze

July 4, 2013

Mowanjum and Albert Barunga: More than just a hand on the wall

Today, in the white man's world, everyone has doubts. No-one sees a clear path, least of all the white man. There are many things called "Truths" which disappear like tracks in the rain when you seek after them. (Albert Barunga 1976)

A few months ago, I discovered or perhaps rediscovered, the origin of a framed, blown hand-print given to me over 34 years ago just before I rode my first, long cycle-tour in 1979. It was the hand-print of Kimberley Aboriginal elder Albert Barunga, now deceased.
I mentioned it earlier in this journal. This is an image of the hand-print:

The framed hand-print on our living room wall of Albert Barunga from the Worrorra people of the Kimberley region Western Australia.Given to me in 1979 by a man whose cash-packed wallet I'd found in a Canberra cinema. I can't recall the wallet owner's name but it was probably Prof Derek Freeman who worked with Albert Barunga and the Mowanjum community. Prof Freeman was also well known as the academic who controversially debunked the anthropological theories of Margaret Mead about Pacific Islanders.Not long before we started this cycle-tour, I rediscovered the note on the back of the print and realised the connection with the forthcoming ride.On the final day of this bike ride, at the end of an exceedingly long day of pedalling though sweaty and dust-covered, I called into Mowanjum which is about 7 km from Derby on The Gibb River Road.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Within a few kilometres of Derby, a visit to the Aboriginal community of Mowanjum provided a great deal more information, and revealed the importance of Albert Barunga, his family and the special story of Kimberley Aboriginal people from the Worrorra, Wunambal and Ngarinyin speaking peoples.

Mowanjum (meaning 'settled at last') was established in 1956 when some of these people were forced to leave their ancestral lands elsewhere in the Kimberley. This was one of a series of relocations, dislocations and major social changes which continue to this day.

Albert Barunga had been one of the younger leaders who agreed to move the community in earlier years, and was a leading figure through many subsequent successes and difficulties of Mowanjum.

One of his most documented achievements was rescuing the famous Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith when he managed to crash his plane into a remote, croc infested wetland in the north Kimberley in 1929.

On the visit to the Mowanjum Art and Cultural Centre, I was shown a book "Mowananjum 50 years community history" (2008) Compiled and edited by Mary Anne Jebb. I bought a copy and was delighted to find stories and images of Albert Barunga, and much more about the Aboriginal aspects of the country through which we'd just cycled.

The hand on the wall in our living room has indeed guided me to a special place. Following are a few snippets which I hope convey a flavour of this aspect of the ride.

I'd encourage anyone riding the Gibb River Road to visit Mowanjum Art and Cultural Centre, and to also consider buying a copy of the "Mowanjum 50 years community history" book. It tells of their journey from their homelands in the north Kimberley to the current community.

It is available from
Mowanjum Aboriginal Community and Mowanjum Artists Spirit of the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation PO Box 3 Derby Western Australia 6728

Additional Contact Details:

Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre

PO Box 252
DERBY 6728
Western Australia
Tel:  08 9191 1008
Fax: 08 9193 2591

I found the book to be an excellent and interesting resource. Here are a few examples.

Filenka Dolby with her baby in 2007. The front cover of the book "Mowanjum 50 years community history" which I was fortunate to be shown and be able to buy at Mowanjum.(Original photo by Kevin Shaw)
Heart 0 Comment 0
A youthful Albert Barunga at Kunmunya. (likely mid 1930's)(Photo in "Mowanjum 50 years community history": sourced State Library of South Australia, Rev. Love collection, PRG 214/44/K106)Kunmunya Mission was originally called Port George IV Mission and was located near Camden Sound and Augustus Island in the centre of Albert's people's (The Worrorra) land. This is a long way from present day Mowanjum.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Pudja and Albert Barunga do a dress rehearsal for the Mowanjum Community before they meet Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in March 1977 on board the H.M. Yacht "Britannia" at Fremantle.(Photo in "Mowanjum 50 years community history" Photograph John Barton provided by Vinca Barunga)
Heart 0 Comment 0
A note in the book "Mowanjum 50 years community history"
Heart 0 Comment 0
The Wandjinas united at the battle of DumbaiFrom the cover of the book "Mowanjum 50 years community history"Wandjinas are the ancestral beings of the Worrorra, Wunambal and Ngarinyin speaking peoples. They share their beliefs in the Wandjinas as creators of everything in their homelands and whose spiritual powers continue to influence and sustain successive generations.Their culture and art, including the Wandjinas is the oldest continuing culture in the world.The striking and very distinctive Wandjina figure came to world attention in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when a huge Wandjina arose in the stadium during the opening ceremony.We are now the proud owners of a Wandjina painting by Albert's son Gordon Barunga who has an impressive selection of art on display at Mowanjum.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Aerial photo of Mowanjum. The art centre we visited is in the top left. Do you notice what it has in common with the photo above? Look very closely :)Let me know on the Message book on this journal via the 'Contact' if you spot the clever architecture.(Western Australian Land Authority CL28/2008)
Heart 0 Comment 0
Satellite image showing the western Kimberley. Derby and Mowanjum are toward the bottom left of the image. The Gibb River Road which we have just cycled is the red line snaking across the lower section of the image. The ancestral lands of Albert's Worrorra people are shown in the centre of the image around the Kunmunya mission site.(Image in "Mowanjum 50 years community history" TerraMetrics inc.)
Heart 0 Comment 0

More about Albert Barunga at

Approval to use the images on this page was sought and gained from Mowanjum Arts. Thanks Jenny Wright.

Today's ride: 131 km (81 miles)
Total: 884 km (549 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 0
Comment on this entry Comment 0