Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Djimongurr (c. 1910–1969)

by Josie Gumbuwa Maralngurra, Sally K. May and Joakim Goldhahn

This article was published:

View Previous Version

Old Nym Djimongurr, by Valerie Lhuedé AM, Muirella Park, September 1963

Old Nym Djimongurr, by Valerie Lhuedé AM, Muirella Park, September 1963

Courtesy Valerie Lhuedé

Djimongurr (c. 1910–1969), cultural storyteller, marrkidjbu (clever man/healer), and rock art artist, also known as Old Nym, was born around 1910 in Arnhem Land, the Northern Territory. A Kunwinjku man, he inherited his duwa Warddjak clan affinity through his father. Djimongurr was na-mard-ku (matrimoiety) and a member of the An-djarrabuma matry, inherited from his mother. The totemic emblems of this matry include monsoon rains from the north and kukku (water). His dreaming was sugarbag (wild honey). Djimongurr had many wives, including Daisy (b. 1922), Jessie (b. 1917), and Molly Madjabunu (b. 1915). He had two children with Molly, a son, Young Nym Namandali (c. 1936–1972), and a daughter, Josie (b. 1952).

Growing up on Country in Arnhem Land, Djimongurr lived with his extended family and travelled long-worn walking routes. In the 1930s he moved west (into what would become Kakadu National Park) in search of seasonal work. He and his wives worked for the buffalo shooters Rex Butler and Tom Cole, among others, at leases around the South Alligator River between 1936 and 1940. In early 1952 he was shooting buffalo for Alan White. During the mid-1950s he worked on a seasonal basis at Russ Jones’s sawmill at Manlarr. His wife Molly worked as a cook. Allan Stewart bought the lease in 1958 and turned it into Darwin Safari Ltd, better known as Nourlangie Safari Camp. Djimongurr became his most trusted Aboriginal staff member. Working as a guide, he took Australian and overseas guests hunting and fishing, and used his skills as a dancer and singer to entertain and educate them about Aboriginal lifeways. Aboriginal children who were living at the camp during this time also benefited, learning cultural traditions through song, dance, and artworks. At this time in life, Djimongurr was a fully initiated man who guided young men through ceremony.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Djimongurr often worked with his friend, the rock art artist Nayombolmi at tourist camps in western Arnhem Land. As the work was seasonal, their families would make extended trips on Country where they returned to a more traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle and took care of their cultural obligations. During these journeys, if they stayed more than two days in one place, the two men would usually create rock paintings. The Koongarra and Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) areas were important for Djimongurr and his family and he repeatedly visited them to camp, hunt, and paint rock art. In 1963 Djimongurr and Nayombolmi created a rock painting scene at Nourlangie rock (Anbangbang Gallery, Kakadu National Park) that comprised eighteen figures—humans, fish, mythological beings—communicating a story of life, loss, and resilience.

During the wet season of 1964, on one of their trips to the Nanguluwurr rock art site, Djimongurr made a Painted Hand Figure that outlined his daughter’s hand and arm and was decorated with a geometric pattern. He added a turtle and seven fish, depicting barramundi, fork-tailed catfish, and saratoga, on the panel. At the same time, Nayombolmi created rock art images depicting mythological beings and introduced his granddaughter (classificatory) Josie to cultural protocols suitable for her age and gender. Djimongurr also added his children’s hand stencils to a rock shelter in the Koongarra area. Intergenerational sharing of knowledge was central to Djimongurr’s life. These personal artworks were created as a form of commemoration of his family’s visits to places with specific meanings for them and as a reminder of the cultural responsibilities and obligations his children would have in later life.

Djimongurr also created bark paintings, often using the medium to illustrate a cultural story. When the bark painting had served its educational purpose, he would offer it for sale. Art collectors and dealers had been visiting the area since the late 1950s, including Dorothy Bennett, who became a primary collector of Djimongurr’s work.

A fully initiated man and senior custodian for his clan, Djimongurr was charged with looking after Country and the ancestral beings that inhabited it. He played key roles in ceremonial gatherings across a wide region and was a sought-after marrkidjbu, curing both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people with great success. Djimongurr was a renowned singer and dancer, and some recordings of his songs were made in the 1960s. Survived by Molly, Namandali, and Josie, he passed away in 1969 at Oenpelli mission (Gunbalanya) and was buried there on 31 May. Three years later his only son Namandali was struck by lightning near Cahills Crossing and passed away.

Most of Djimongurr’s known artworks are found within Kakadu, but the majority of his artworks have not been documented by outsiders and are known only to his family and kin. His paintings in the Anbangbang Gallery are among the most visited, celebrated, and recognised rock art globally. Admired by hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, they appear frequently in national and global overviews of rock art and remain a source of inspiration for Aboriginal people in Kakadu today. His descendants still live at Gunbalanya.

 

Josie Gumbuwa Maralngurra is a Warddjak woman. The daughter of Nym Djimongurr, she witnessed her father creating rock art, including at the internationally renowned Anbangbang Gallery and Nanguluwurr. 

Sally K. May is Australian and Joakim Goldhahn is of Swedish descent. May and Goldhahn were living on Kaurna Country when the article was written.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Goldhahn, Joakim, Sally K. May, Josie Gumbuwa Maralngurra, and Jeffrey Lee. ‘Children and Rock Art: A Case Study from Western Arnhem Land, Australia.’ Norwegian Archaeological Review 53, no. 1 (2020): 59–82
  • May, Sally K., Josie Gumbuwa Maralngurra, Iain G. Johnston, Joakim Goldhahn, Jeffrey Lee, Gabrielle O’Loughlin, Kadeem May, Christine Ngalbarndidj Nabobbob, Murray Garde, and Paul S. C. Taçon. ‘“This Is My Father’s Painting”: A First-Hand Account of the Creation of the Most Iconic Rock Art in Kakadu National Park.’ Rock Art Research 36, no. 2 (2019): 199–213
  • Personal knowledge of IADB subject (Maralngurra)
  • Stewart, A. The Green Eyes Are Buffaloes. Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1969

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Josie Gumbuwa Maralngurra, Sally K. May and Joakim Goldhahn, 'Djimongurr (c. 1910–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/djimongurr-31702/text39163, published online 2022, accessed online 27 January 2023.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Old Nym Djimongurr, by Valerie Lhuedé AM, Muirella Park, September 1963

Old Nym Djimongurr, by Valerie Lhuedé AM, Muirella Park, September 1963

Courtesy Valerie Lhuedé

More images

pic pic pic