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Lofty’ Bardayal Nadjamerrek / Sugar Bag Woman

76cm x 58cm Ochre on Arches Paper, 2006

SKU: 9886


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The Age, October 22, 2009

Visionary realised his dream

1926 – 16-10-2009

WAMUD Namok, one of the Northern Territory’s most distinguished indigenous figures who was widely known as Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, has died at the remote western Arnhem Land outstation of Kabulwarnamyo. He was 83.

Namok was a rock artist whose knowledge of the land, its history and ceremonies was a great help to anthropologists, botanists and other researchers.

He also led a movement that won for his people in 2002 a vast protected area, the Warddeken and Djelk Indigenous Protected Areas, about one-third the size of Tasmania, which stretches from high rocky country to the islands off northern Australia. It include sandstone gorges, pristine rivers, tropical savanna and coastal wetlands. Under a federal agreement, traditional owners – 137 Aboriginal groups – manage the reserves, helped by indigenous rangers in full-time jobs paid for by Canberra.

Born in the Mann River area of central Arnhem Land, Namok did not attend school. Rather, he spent his early years learning the traditional Aboriginal ways of living and developed his local and traditional knowledge.

As a young man Namok worked on a road construction gang, at the sawmill at Oenpelli, and in the tin mining industry. During World War II he served with the military in the Katherine region. He also criss-crossed Arnhem Land on foot, hunting, meeting up with his extended kin and conducting ceremonies from the rocky escarpment to the tropical savannas and coastal wetlands. It was his vision to bring his people back to care for their traditional lands. The Warddeken Land Management group described his knowledge of the land and rock art as ”unparalleled … it represents a link with the past and a particular way of life which has now changed forever”.

Namok is believed to be the last Aboriginal artist to have painted works on the rock walls of western Arnhem Land and his early work, in his intricate and particular X-ray style, can still be found in sandstone shelters.
His works on bark hang in many art galleries and corporate and personal collections around Australia, as well as overseas.

In 1999 he was the winner of the Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences’ National Aboriginal Art Award for best works on paper.

In 2004, he was made an officer in the Order of Australia for his services to the arts and indigenous land management – one of only two indigenous Territorians to have received this national honour.
”Wamud Namok has been one of the region’s most important and loved artists,” said a spokesman for his community. ”He has been extremely generous with his knowledge, taking on an important role as teacher.” He was also a regular speaker at regional land management conferences, and shared his knowledge of the NT with both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Throughout, he was a prolific painter, although in his later years trachoma slowed him down. In 1982, one of his paintings was used on the Australian 40 cent stamp, and in 1993 he was commissioned by the authorities to paint the large mural, based on a painting of ”Ngalyod”, that hangs in the foyer at Darwin Airport.

He married Mary Kalkkiwarra in about 1950, and is survived by five daughters, three sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In the Dreamtime a man called Anwadi lived near the Mann River, about 150 miles from Oenpelli on the way to Maningrida in Central Arnhem Land. He became known as the ‘sugar bag man’ because of his ability to find swarms of small black bees circling around dead branches, indicating the presence of wild honey. Once having located such a tree he would cut down the dead branch with a stone axe, and scoop out the beeswax and sweet wild honey in the hive.

He decided to travel throughout western Arnhem Land teaching other people his skills, and eventually came to an area known as Marlgawo. lt was a land of rocky escarpments and plunging waterfalls, so he told his family they would all settle there. However two birds (wakwak) shouted out to Anwadi that the country belonged to them and they would not allow him to settle there.

When Anwadi refused to move on, the birds hurled stone axes at him and his family, cutting off their legs. Anwadi retaliated by killing the birds with stones, and they turned to rock.

The Sugar Bag people settled down happily, learning how to walk around without legs and still continue to find wild honey. Eventually they all died and turned into trees or rocks, where their spirits live on forever.

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