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Nimbauwah Rock

Towering into the sky and dominating the surrounding country, Nimbuwah is an outlier near the western Arnhem Land escarpment. Nimbuwah is a sacred site for the Kunwinjku people.

In the time of nayubyungki, the First People, a tall young man named Nimbuwah came from the south, near Pine Creek, bringing with him Gularrmundidj, his widowed mother. They were searching for a good place to live and eventually to metamorphose into rocks. This was the dream of all people living at that time: to have their spirits enshrined forever in sacred rocks and revered by future generations. Ideally they preferred to choose the time they would metamorphose, but sometimes dangerous events or the sin of breaking tabus precipitated their transformations.

At the first place they decided to settle Nimbuwah and Gularmundidj were turned away by Yirriyu, Nimbuwah’s mother’s nephew, who claimed the site as his own. So the son and mother retreated further to the east and made camp near Cooper’s Creek, about 42 kilometres (26 m.) from Gunbalanya, where fresh running water and plenty of food were available. Here Nimbuwah took for himself a young girl, Warramundud.

However a mighty hunter, Djiribidj, also wanted Warramundud, and so he plotted to kill his rival Nimbuwah. Djiribidj came across Nimbuwah one day when he was carrying his young wife because she was tired. He hurled his stone axe at Nimbuwah with such force that it severed his head from his body. Warramundud was flung out of Nimbuwah’s arms and landed heavily onto the ground, where she turned into a rock next to her husband, who had already transformed himself into a tall rock. The stone head of the axe separated from its shaft and flew away; the place where it landed is now a small rock. The mother, grief stricken at the loss of her son and terrified of the murderer, also changed herself into a rock. Djiribidj became a pigeon and flew away.

Nimbuwah rock is shown in the centre of this painting. The boulder on its top represents Nimbuwah’s head and the bottom section, his body. His mother’s spirit is in the rock on his right, and the spirit of his young wife is in the rock on his left. These rocks and the area in front of them are sacred and must not be approached without permission from the traditional owners, but the artist states that the area behind Nimbuwah is not sacred. It was there he spent most of his childhood, living in a cave with his family. His father taught him the story of this sacred site and how to record it in painting, so that the deeds of Nimbuwah would live on forever

The Rainbow Serpent Ngalyod shown in the rock represents the spirits of his first ancestor who has always lived there and is one of the main reasons why Nimbuwah and its surrounds should never be disturbed.

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