More than 30 years ago, Jawoyn artist Marnakolorlo Alice Mitchell used ochre paint on a sheet of masonite board to tell the story of Nitmiluk and the rainbow serpent Bolung.
The painted image of Bolung became the symbol of Jawoyn people’s connection to their traditional lands in their historic land claim over Nitmiluk and surrounding area.
When Jawoyn won their land back in 1989, the painting marked celebrations at the park (pictured above) and it became the symbol for the Jawoyn Association and its tourism enterprise in the gorge, Nitmiluk Tours.
Following the handback, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory was asked to look after the painting for Jawoyn.
Former Jawoyn Association adviser Chips Mackinolty said a series of unfortunate events lead many to believe the painting had been lost forever.
“I purchased the painting from Marnakolorlo before the handback, but following celebrations we decided to ask the museum to hold it for safekeeping,” Mr Mackinolty said.
“However, a number of collections the museum was also holding for safekeeping were returned to a Katherine community art centre in the ‘90s.
“The 1998 Katherine flood hit soon after the collections were returned to the town and they were either destroyed or lost in the floodwaters.
“We thought the painting may have suffered the same fate.”
A chance discussion lead the Jawoyn Association to make some enquiries and the painting was found safely in a drawer in the museum’s Aboriginal stores.
Jawoyn Association board chairperson Lisa Mumbin said she felt emotional when she heard the painting had been found.
“Marnakolorlo was not only a known artist, she was the key witness in the Jawoyn land claim - many called her Jawoyn Queen,” Ms Mumbin said.
“She was a strong culture woman with a lot of knowledge and her painting had a lot of meaning for us.
“We’re so happy that after 30 years since we saw it at the celebrations of the handback, everyone will be able to see it again.”
The painting will return home for the Nitmiluk Festival exhibition Sharing Country at Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre on Friday September 6.