Maningrida is a small, self-governing coastal town, which lies on the estuary of the Liverpool River about 500 kilometres east of Darwin and 300 kilometres north east of Jabiru. It supports a population of about 2,600 that includes the people living in the town proper and those who live within the thirty outstations or homelands. The area serviced by Maningrida extends from Marrkolidjban in eastern Kunwinjku country in the west, to Berriba in Dangbon country in the south, and over as far as Yinangarnduwa, or Cape Stewart, in the east. In the past Maningrida has been classified as Central Arnhem Land, but in recent publications, such as Crossing Country: The Alchemy of Western Arnhem Land and The Inspired Dream, it has been placed under the umbrella of Western Arnhem Land.

2. River crossing

The traditional landowners of the land are the Kunibídji people, and the name Maningrida is an Anglicised version of the Kunibídji phrase mane djang karirr a which means ‘the place where the dreaming changed shape’.

Image: River Crossing, Arnhem Land, courtesy of Maningrida Arts and Culture

Languages and Clans

Maningrida is home to a wide variety of clan and language groups some of whom are linked to the Yolngu-speaking communities of Ramingining and Milingimbi, while others are connected to the West Arnhem communities of Warruwi and Gunbalanya.

The languages spoken are Ndjébbana, eastern Kunwinjku, Kune, Rembarrnga, Dangbon/Dalabon, Nakkara, Gurrgoni, Djinang, Wurlaki, Ganalbingu, Gupapuyngu, Kunbarlang, Gun-nartpa, Burarra and English. The local school has bilingual programs for the Ndjébbana (the language of the Kunibídji people) and Burarra languages. Most people living in and around Maningrida have a command of three or more of these languages, making Maningrida one of the most multilingual communities in the world per capita.


In 1949, a trading post was set up in Maningrida by Syd Kyle-Little and Jack Doolan. The trading post was redeveloped in 1957 as a permanent settlement by Welfare Branch of Northern Territory Administration, under the management of Dave and Ingrid Drysdale. At this time there were thirteen different clan groups living in the area. The establishment of the permanent settlement was partly an attempt to stem the flow of Aboriginal people from the Blyth and Liverpool Rivers regions moving into Darwin, and partly to allow the government to monitor the Aboriginal people more closely.

Patrols were sent out to encourage people to move to the settlement and within a few years many Aboriginal people from the surrounding areas were living in Maningrida. In the
1970s, with the introduction of Land Rights as well as an attempt to avoid the intrusion of Western culture, people started moving out of the Maningrida town centre and back to their traditional homelands.

Art and the Art Centre

In 1963 Rev. Gowan Armstrong was appointed as the new chaplain. Inspired by the already established art and craft trading on Warruwi (Goulbourn Island) and Milingimbi, he began to buy and sell indigenous artworks under banner of Maningrida Social Club. A decade later in 1973, the Maningrida Arts and Culture (MAC) was formally established.

3. James Iyuna chopping hollow log

Image: Maningrida artist James Iyuna preparing a hollow log. Copyright courtesy Maningrida Arts and Culture, N.T.

Maningrida Arts & Culture is one of Australia’s largest Aboriginal artist co-operatives, and represents over 700 artists. MAC focuses on the marketing of contemporary and traditional arts from the Maningrida region and has a reputation for quality, innovation, vibrancy and diversity. The Maningrida region produces a wide range of arts and craft, including bark painting, sculpture, cast metal, carved objects, musical instruments, limited edition prints and ceremonial regalia, but is particularly well known for its fibre weaving, which ranges from bags and baskets to large fishing traps and mats.

5. Well-Site in the Artist's Country

Image: RONNIE DJANBARDI c.1925-1994, Well-Site In The Artist’s Country, natural pigments on bark, © the artist’s estate

During the 1990s, two comprehensive weaving collections were established in Australia, one at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and the other at the Museum of Victoria, Melbourne.

Additionally the arts centre engages in cultural maintenance activities including the production of dictionaries, music recording, preservation of the archives and supporting researchers and students. MAC also maintains the Djomi Museum, Maningrida’s keeping place.

John Mawurndjul is one of the leading Australian artists practicing today. A member of the Kurulk clan, he was born in 1952 at Mumeka camp, some 50 kilometres south of Maningrida on the Mann River. He grew up with very little contact with balandas.1 In the late 1970s he began learning various painting techniques from his elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma and uncle Peter Marralwanga. Marwurndjul’s early work tended to be on smaller barks, and feature mythological beings such as Ngalyod, the rainbow serpent, that guards sacred sites in Western Arnhem Land.

During the 1980s, he started producing larger and more elaborate works, which quickly caught the attention of the broader artistic community. In 1988 he won the Rothmans Foundation Award for best painting in traditional media at NAAA.2 In the 1990s, he was featured in a number of international exhibitions in Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark and France. In 2000 his work was featured at the Sydney Biennale and in 1999 and 2002 he won the bark-painting prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.4. Kolobarr the Kangaroo In 2003 he was awarded the prestigious Clemenger Contemporary Art Award.

Mawurndjul is influential in regard to many of the artists from Western Arnhem Land, including his wife Kay Lindjuwanga and daughter Anna Wurrkidj, and has been the creator of a new and exciting artistic style. He is particularly well known for his rarrk3 style of painting, which is detailed and complex. His paintings deal with themes of spirituality, mythology and life cycles. Ngalyod has remained a central theme in his paintings, but recent years have seen a move towards more abstract representations of the Mardayin ceremony, a now rarely performed ceremony with clan identity and mortuary themes.

Image: PETER MARRALWANGA 1916-1987, Kolobarr The Kangaroo, c.1973, natural pigments on bark, © the artist’s estate

From time to time discrepancies may be seen in the spelling of certain artists’ names, especially concerning the letters ‘K’ and ‘G’. Over time linguists working in indigenous communities have developed a better understanding of the sounds in different Aboriginal dialects, and as a result there have been changes in the accepted spelling of some names. An example of this is Mick Kubarkku, who in the past has been known as Mick Gubargu.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Andrew Blake in the preparation of this document.

Artists: Past and present

Jimmy Angunguna England Banggala
Rosie Bindalbindal Samson Bonson
Selina Brian Vicki Brown
Johnny Bulunbulun Bonny Burarngarra
Bob Burruwal Ambrose Cameron
Lena Djamarrayku Ronnie Djanbardi
Tom Djawa Don Djorlom
Ken Djungkidj Michael Gadjarwala
Dorothy Galaledba George Ganyjibala
Melba Gunjarrwanga James Iyuna
Lorna Jin-gubarrangunyja Elizabeth Kandabuma
Hamish Karrkarrhba Mick Kubarkku
Crusoe Kuningbal Crusoe Kurddal
Helen Lanyinwanga Kay Lindjuwanga
Carol Liyawanga Campion Shirley Malgarrich
Wally Mandarrk Samuel Manggudja
Mary Marabamba Susan Marawarr Maranbarra
Elsie Marmanga Peter Marralwanga
John Mawurndjul Mabel Mayangal
Robert Mibora David Milaybuma
Shirley Minyingarla Kate Miwulku
Marina Murdilnga Linton Nabekeyo
Spider Namirrki Nabunu Paul Nabulumo Namarinjmak
Daisy Nadjungdanga Ivan Namirrkki
Samuel Namunjda Jack Nawilil
Irenie Ngalinba Terry Ngamandara
Jimmy Njiminjuma Brian Njinawanga
Matilda Malparringa Pascoe Margaret Rinybuma
Tommy Gondorra Steele Betty Wanduk
Timothy Wulanjbirr Anna Wurrkidj
Deborah Wurrkidj Jennifer Midji Wurrkidj

Further References

Armstrong, Claire, (ed.) Australian Indigenous Art Collection: Commande Publique D’Art Aborigène Musée Du Quai Branly, Art & Australia, Sydney 2006

Crossing Country, the alchemy of western Arnhem Land Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2004

Bush Colour, works on paper by female artists from the Maningrida region,exhibition catalogue, Maningrida Arts and Culture, 1999

Caruana, Wally, ‘Waglak and Djan’kawu: Ancestral paintings in the public domain’, in Art From Land: dialogues with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection of Australian Aboriginal art, Morphy, Howard and Smith Boles, Margo (ed.), University of Virginia, 1999

Diggins, Lauraine (ed.), A Myriad of Dreaming: Twentieth Century Aboriginal Art, Malakoff Fine Art Press, 1989, pp. 15 – 39

Floating Life, Contemporary Aboriginal Fibre Art, Queensland Art Gallery, 2009

Martin, Jan, Important works from North East Arnhem Land, Lyttlton Gallery, 1989

John Mawurndjul and John Bulunbulun, exhibition catalogue, Annandale Galleries, 1997

Kleinert, Sylvia & Neale, Margo (general eds.), The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp.636-637

Kohen, Garde, Ryan, Jurzak, and Peltier, In the Heart of Arnhem Land: Myth and the Making of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, Musée del l’Hôtel-Dieu, Mantes-la-Jolie, France, 2001

Laverty, Colin, Beyond Sacred: Recent paintings from Australia’s Aboriginal communities. The Collection of Colin and Elizabeth Laverty, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, 2008

Maningrida, Kunmadj Rowk: contemporary weaving from Maningrida, Craft Victoria, 1993

Maningrida Arts & Culture, brochure, Maningrida Arts and Culture

Out of the Mould, an exhibition of first works in bronze and aluminium from Maningrida, exhibition catalogue, Maningrida Arts and Culture, 2001

Perkins, Hetti, and Watson, Ken, ‘Yiribana: A facelift and a new show’, Look, July 2005

Ryan, Judith, Spirit in Land: Bark Paintings From Armhem Land, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1990

West, Margie K. C., The Inspired Dream, Life as art in Aboriginal Australia, Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, 1988

Foot Notes

1. Yolgnu word for white or European person.
2. Now called the Telstra National Aboriginal Islander Art Award (NATSIAA), the award was established in 1984 as the National Aboriginal Art Award.
3. Cross hatch patterning, usually found painted on barks of Arnhem Land and can be read to identify different clans of Arnhem Land (known as dhulang in North-East Arnhem Land; dirrnu in Wadeye region; miny’tji in Central and North Eastern Arnhem Land).