The Kuninjku people of Arnhem Land tell of a time when their ancestors suffered a terrible drought. People living in the rocky outlier region near the Mann River dug wells to get water. When they dried up water was obtained by cutting the trunks of Melaleuca trees, called djidjdjerok , to find the brackish water stored inside their trunk. When these trees were exhausted, the ancestors survived only on wild honey and eventually they died of thirst. The bones of these ancestors are said to be those found in the caves of the escarpment country of western Arnhem Land in the Mann River district.
In the ancestral time of creation there was a great drought. During this time Buluwana and her family camped at Ngandarrayo on Kurulk clan land. They were weak from thirst and close to death. The malevolent gigantic form of the Death Adder Snake confronted the group. Buluwana attempted to run away with the rest of her family but was crushed and turned to stone. Today an arrangement of rocks standing in the ground remains as Buluwana’s present day form. Only her head protrudes as a prismic standing stone. The rest of her body is under-ground. Human remains lying on rock ledges in the area are said to be those of other early ancestors.
This painting is a reference to the very early time, before the ancestors died. It depicts Buluwana superimposed on the background of crosshatching with her kun-madj (dilly bag) and digging stick. She is depicted at a site called Dilebang. Dilebang is regarded as one of the most dangerous and sacred of sites in the Kun-Kurulk clan estate. Today, travel in the area is undertaken with caution as site custodians are aware of the ancestral power of the area. The billabong at Dilebang is near escarpment country rich in rock art and with a high concentration of sacred sites. The use of rarrk (crosshatching) all over the surface of the bark painting creates a shimmering effect, which imbues the image with a spiritual power.
Buluwana by Susan Marawarr