Jackson Jacob (Thunalgunaldin)
Lardil language group, Mornington Island
Ochres on Eucaplytus Bark
Researched and written by Helen Geiger and Hayley Owens
Young Art Historians Program
The subject matter, artist, date range, and language group were unknown before this research was completed.
In the mid-1960s Dr. John Cawte, who studied Aboriginal medicine, first acquired this piece and then later passed it on as a gift to Dr. Knight Aldrich, who donated the piece along with a boomerang to the Kluge-Ruhe Collection in 2004. Dr. Aldrich was under the impression when he donated the piece that the subject represented a stomach ailment. After investigation, it is clear that the mysterious creature is a representation of Bun Bun.
Bun Bun is a local totem that has its sacred site in south-east Mornington Island in the Larumbenda clan of the Lardil community (Memmott, email correspondence, 2013). Because Bun Bun is a coastal totem, it has the power to give a person malkri or malgri sickness, which is characterized by abdominal pain, constipation, tiredness, and sometimes vomiting. Malkri sickness is usually inflicted by Bun Bun with assistance from Thuwathu the Rainbow Serpent, whose actions and movements created and formed the landscape of Mornington Island. Today it is believed that “his energies are not only in all the places that he made…but extend through the marine and littoral systems of the Wellesley Islands” (Memmott, 1982). Bun Bun and Thuwathu are likely to inflict malkri sickness on a person if he or she breaks Thuwathu’s law that prohibits the mixing of land and sea foods, or any contact between land and sea food, fluids or smells. More information on the cause of malkri sickness can be found in Paul Memmott’s article Rainbows, Story Places and Malkri Sickness in the North Wellesley Islands (Memmott, 1982).
The artist is most likely Jackson Jacob. In The Heart of Everything, an untitled piece by Jacob has striking visual similarities to this piece (24). Also, according to Paul Memmott, Bun Bun’s ‘story place’ is in the estate of the Jacob clan. Alternatively, the artist could be Lindsey Roughsey, who also had permission to depict Bun Bun; however, most other works by Roughsey are signed as a marker of his leadership in the painting movement on the Island, and this work is not signed. Memmott also specifically recalled a time when Jackson Jacob himself explained Bun Bun’s association with malkri sickness.
It is estimated that the painting was made between 1960 and 1965. Stylistically the piece looks more like the works made on the Island in the late-1960s or early-1970s, but since Cawte acquired the boomerang in the mid-1960s and Memmott believes it likely was collected at the same time, this painting could not have been made after this time. In the context of the Mornington Island art movement, this piece might be seen as an early example of a developing style.