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This explanation comprises a general account followed by specific reference to 1985.0067.0091.
The Night-bird, Karawak, and the Opposum, Marungo at Cape Shield
During mythical times the night-bird, karawak (unidentified) lived by himself at Milingimbi. One night, feeling lonely, he flew to the top of the tree in which he lived and called out to an opossum, marungo, whose home was in a hollow tree at Djerakoi, Cape Shield, near Blue Mud Bay, to come over and talk to him. But the opossum did not even reply. Karawak then flew to the Wessel Islands, then to Arnhem Bay and then to Cape Arnhem, at each place asking the opossum to pay him a visit, but the opossum made no sign of even having heard the night-bird. Finally karawak flew to the hollow tree at Cape Shield, the home of the opossum, and settling on the upper branches, again repeated his request. As soon as it was dark, the opossum left his nesting hollow and, climbing to the top of the tree, talked with karawak the whole night long. When, however, the first light of dawn came in the sky, the opossum descended the tree and went to sleep in a hollow limb. From that time until now, the night-bird, karawak, calls at night, the only time that the opossum will leave his home in the hollow tree and talk to him.
Two bark paintings, a ceremonial message stick [footnote 19: Fig. 65A, B; not held by NMA] and a staff, [footnote 20: Pl. 134E.; not held by NMA] used in the karawak totemic rituals, were made by the Yirrkalla [sic] aborigines.
The central design on Pl. 115E is the totemic hollow tree at Djerakoi, Cape Shield, with karawak, the night-bird, sitting on top of it. The black semicircles at a, a, and b, b, and similar designs on the trunk, are openings in the hollow tree, the home of the opossum, marungo. At dusk the opossum leaves the opening, a, climbs the tree and, entering b, keeps karawak company during the hours of darkness. At the first sign of dawn the opossum leaves karawak and, descending the trunk, enters the hole a and goes to sleep. On the right is the opossum ascending, and on the left, descending. The short white marks on the trunk of the tree are the scratches made by the claws of the opossum as he climbs up and down. The meandering lines on panels c, c, c, c, c, c, indicate marks in the mud at the base of the totemic tree made by the opossum, marungo, the ghost crabs, gunjun, and an unidentified lizard, gainnerena. In some undetermined way these three creatures are associated in the myths.
On Pl. 115B [1985.0067.0091] the tall vertical figure in the middle of the painting is the hollow totemic tree at Djerakoi on which karawak seated himself to talk to the opossum. Flying around karawak are five cicadas. A number of opossums are shown ascending the tree after dark and descending when dawn breaks. The short white lines indicate the scratches made on the tree by their claws. The upper six panels of wavy lines, a, a, a, a, a, a, represent the footmarks of the opossums as they walked round the totemic tree. The circles at the corner of the square, b, are the holes of the crabs, gunjun, which followed the opossum to the tree, and the lines joining the circles are the tracks made in the sand by the crabs as they walked from one hole to another. [footnote 21: Myth, p. 298 (not transcribed here), and design of the crabs, gunjun, on bark painting, Pl. 115E (not held by NMA)] In the squares, c, on the lower left are four dingoes. The surrounding designs are the paths of the dingoes, and the dots are their tracks (Mountford, 1956, 362-363).
A bark painting worked with ochres on bark. It depicts a tall tree down the centre of the painting at the top of which is a bird surrounded by flying insects. The tree features extended branches of dashed wavy lines which in turn form horizontal panel sections across the painting. There are three possums climbing on each side of the tree trunk. At the base of the tree there are two quartered square sections with the one on the left containing four smaller possums.The painting has a black and red background.
W 460mm x H 1000mm
Artist attributed by Professor Howard Morphy, 2013