ⓘ Binyinyuwuy Djarrankuykuy


ⓘ Binyinyuwuy Djarrankuykuy

Dick Binyinyuwuy Djarrankuykuy was a leading Aboriginal artist from the island of Milingimbi off the coast of the Northern Territory of Australia. He belonged to the Djarrankuykuy clan of the Djambarrpuyngu people. During World War II he was among the group of Aboriginal men enlisted by Squadron Leader Donald Thomson for the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit to protect Australias northern shoreline from Japanese invasion. He became an artist after the war, in the 1950s.


1. Biography

Binyinyuwuy was born in 1928 in Ramingining, in central Arnhem Land, Australia. He belongs to the Djambarrpuyngu language group. As a young man, he moved to the island of Milingimbi, just off the northern coast of Arnhem Land. The town of Milingimbi was established by the Overseas Methodist Mission in 1923, and later re-established in 1951 after the residents were evacuated during World War II. This island is very remote, and the community was very conservative.

In 1948, Binyinyuwuy, as part of Charles Mountford’s American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land, helped archeologist Frank Setzler excavate a Makassan well. Later, during the war, Binyinyuwuy became part of Donald Thomson’s Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit NTSRU. Binyinyuwuy and a group of other young Yolnu men were thus charged with safeguarding the coast of their home, Arnhem Land, from enemy invaders, like the Japanese army, from 1941 to 1943. The unit was later disbanded as the threat of a Japanese landing in Arnhem Land decreased. No longer a soldier, Binyinyuwuy returned to his life.

In the 1950s, Binyinyuwuy, now a young rebel, was seen raiding shops at the mission station by Ann Wells, wife of Edgar Wells, the mission superintendent. Binyinyuwuy resented the presence of the balanda white people on his peoples land. Concerned that Binyinyuwuy would continue to raid his stores, Wells approached the communitys leaders to ask them how he should proceed. By this time, Binyinyuwuy had already established himself in this Indigenous community as a skilled painter and maker of ceremonial objects. The elders told Wells of his skill, and Wells declared that if Binyinyuwuy gave him one of his bark paintings, he would not be punished for his crimes. Binyinyuwuy agreed to these terms. When Wells saw the painting, he admired it so much that he added young Binyinyuwuy to a list of paid artists providing artworks to the mission station. Thus Binyinyuwuys career as an artist began. He grew to be an influential artist in his community and abroad, both because of his skill, and because of his high ritual authority. As he grew older, Binyinyuwuy became a central part of ceremonial life in his community, and his works were featured in many different collections at various museums across the globe. He kept making ceremonial objects and paintings until his death in 1982.

Inspired by her father, his daughter Judy Lirrinyin has also became a celebrated artist of her own generation, working through the Milingimbi Arts and Culture.


2. Career

Binyinyuwuy had a high ritual authority, which meant his paintings could reflect a diverse range of subject matter. This included the darrpa king brown snake, the birrkulda honey, and the wititj olive python, among many other things.

One of Binyinyuwuy’s earlier paintings was called Banumbirr morning star, and was collected by Charles Mountford during the 1948 AASEAL expedition.

Binyinyuwuy is known for the elegance of his bark paintings, and his use of warm colours in some of his work. He was recognized alongside other prolific painters in his community, like Tom Djawa and David Malangi. Today, his work can be found at many important museums in Australia, such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as well as the National Museum of Australia. It is partly due to his success that the art industry continues to flourish in Milingimbi to this day.


3. Collections

  • National Gallery of Australia
  • National Gallery of Victoria
  • National Museum of Australia
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

4. Significant exhibitions

  • 2017: Art from Milingimbi: Taking Memories Back. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Nov 2016–29 Jan 2017.
  • 2019: Reinvigorating the MECA Collection. Charles Darwin University Gallery, Darwin, 28 Mar 2019–20 Jul 2019.
  • 2007: One sun, One moon: Aboriginal Art in Australia. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 03 Jul 2007–02 Dec 2007

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