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Home » Water in a Dry Land: Place Learning Through Art and Story » A Dry Land: Daphne Wallace

A Dry Land: Daphne Wallace

#Map 6: Binnem Binnem Butterfly

‘A lot of people were shifted around. I think the idea of that was to break the spiritual connection to the land, and then ceremony would stop. All that connection would stop. Mum remembered the old men going off into the bush painted up, and after that there were no more ceremonies’.

The midden painting

‘So that’s the shell middens runnin’ along there, that really blue sky to make it feel like 50 degrees, that’s why I used that sort of blue ‘cause it was so hot that day.

The feeling at that spot, the Old People there, you could imagine everyone sitting down there breaking the mussels open and eating ‘em, a big feast’.

The Yurri Yurri sequence

‘How this story came about was my mother was talking about the kids and the grandkids are growing up silly these days and mucking up and not doing what they’re told and she said it’s all my generation not passing the stories down.’

The series of paintings that make up this book depicts the changes in the passing on of knowledge in storytelling through the changing practices of home and country. Daphne wrote the text in Aboriginal English, the language her father tried to persuade her not to speak but the language she believes carries contemporary knowledge of country. 

‘I’d be sittin’ down scribblin’ on somethin’ – everyone’d be asleep, candle goin’, sittin’ on a dirt floor, she’d sing out, “Doesn’t ‘e go to bed now? Yurri Yurri people in the window there, lookin’ at yah. Go right now!” An’ you’d blow the candle out an’ go to bed’.

‘She’d carry the boiler on her back, a baby in it with the clothes, down to the bore drain. We’d all be down there, mum used to wash in the old boiler and poke it with a stick and we’d be catching our lunch. We’d have to wait while the clothes dried and she’d fold ‘em up and we’d walk home’.

‘First time I am telling my daughter Alpena Yuntjai Bronwyn at the computer, she can also past onto her children’s and so on, see Alpena, that how our ancestor, old people, and our families, past on the old stories around the fire at night before sleep time’.

The Binnem Binnem butterfly painting

All the while I was recording Daphne making her artworks my estranged husband was dying. It was like two parallel stories running side by side in my life, my work with Daphne, and my personal dealing with the process of his dying, until the two came together in the Binnem Binnem painting.

Lot of work in it. I’m doing all the veins now so it’s gonna take me ages ‘cause there’s a lot of veins runnin’ through it. I was gonna use this pearl white but then I decided to use this really white white, and in between you can see the different colouring and patterns, yeah.

My husband died during those ages it took for the butterfly wings to emerge in the fine white filigree veins that shaped their form. Daphne made a cup of tea and called him up between us, Daphne, me and the Binnem Binnem painting. ‘He changed my life’ she said, ‘if it wasn’t for him I would never have gone to College’. Then she told me the Binnem Binnem butterfly story.

‘The Yuwalaroi people went down the river an’ met these wonderful people –– the Caterpillar people. They did their fishing and everyone got on really well. Then when the Yuwalaroi people went back down the river a few weeks later, there was no Caterpillar people around. An’ they thought they had died. They had a big mourning-like ceremony for them, and painted up and that, thinkin they’d died. The following Spring the Yuwalaroi people went back down the river again and there was this beautiful people there with beautiful colours. They were the Binnem Binnem people, the Butterfly people. And what the Binnem Binnem people said to them – ‘cause the Yuwalaroi had all the big mourning ceremony – and they said, No we didn’t die. Our spirit just transformed from that caterpillar into this beautiful butterfly.’

This material is an accompaniment to Water in a Dry Land: Place Learning Through Art and Story.