NAISDA Journeys to Sea Country at the Maritime Museum - 29.08.18

Earlier this month, NAISDA’s Developing Artists and some staff members accompanied our Cultural Tutors, Heather and Tony from Nyinyikay East Arnhem Land, to the Australian National Maritime Museum to experience the special feature exhibition, Gapu-Monuk Saltwater: Journey to Sea Country.

Curated by Helen Anu, the exhibition tells the powerful story of the Yolŋu people of North-East Arnhem Land, their fight for recognition of Indigenous sea rights and the Blue Mud Bay legal case.

The exhibition centres around 40 Yirrkala bark paintings from the Saltwater Collection, created by the Yolŋu artists who petitioned for sea rights by painting their Saltwater Countries onto bark, and revealing sacred patterns or designs known as Miny’tji. It also includes Mokuy (spirit) carvings, Larrakitj (mortuary pole paintings on hollowed trees) and other traditional and contemporary works.

NAISDA was honoured to have the exhibition’s curator Helen Anu join us on the day to guide us through the intricacies of the artwork and explain the historical significance of the exhibition. Our Cultural Tutors Heather and Tony provided meaningful cultural context to the experience, allowing for a deeper understanding of the stories surrounding the artworks and the different lands and communities featured.

From a staff perspective, the excursion provided a unique opportunity for participating NAISDA staff members to connect with Developing Artists and learn more about their cultural identities.

“The exhibition is fantastic. It was amazing to see these artworks that have been restored and kept in immaculate condition,” said Kate O’Brien, Corporate Services Coordinator at NAISDA.

“Having Helen walk us through the exhibition was a very special experience, as was having Heather and Tony with us to contribute their own cultural knowledge.

“It was good to have this depth of knowledge when exploring the exhibition as it really added to the learning opportunity. We had a chance to learn about the different lands and communities behind the paintings,” she added.

While at the Museum, NAISDA also visited the temporary exhibition Unbroken Lines of Resilience: Feathers, Fibre, Shells, which is based around the 2018 NAIDOC theme ‘Because of her, we can!’ and brings together some of Australia’s most renowned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female artists, leading practitioners in their fields of weaving and shell stringing. We were thrilled to have the exhibition’s curator Beau James join us to walk us through this brilliant display.

“The day really was a fantastic opportunity to connect with each other whilst developing our cultural knowledge and understanding,” added Kate.

NAISDA would like to thank the Australian National Maritime Museum, Helen Anu, Beau James and our wonderful cultural tutors Heather and Tony for this fantastic learning and cultural development opportunity. The Gapu-Monuk Saltwater exhibition is open daily from 9.30am–5pm until February 2019. For more information, visit