Jarinyanu David Downs
Born about 1923, died 1996
Wangkajunga language groups, Jangkarti skin group
Jarinyanu David Downs grew up with his brother Spider Snell at Kurtal. Leaving the desert as young men in the 1940’s they worked on the stations. For a time, Jarinyanu also worked as a drover on the stock route. In the late 1960’s, he began carving artefacts and in the 1980’s he began painting striking figurative works, which often fused elements of traditional desert and Christian iconographies. David Downs passed away in 1996.
Kurtal as Miljitaru
1989, by Jarinyanu David Downs
acrylic and ochre on canvas, 183 x 122 cm
Holmes a Court Collection
Kurtal is shown here as the embodiment of miltijaru, a dramatic rainstorm that roars into the desert at the beginning of the wet season. Long rolling rain clouds called kutukutu, symbolised in Kurtal’s headdress, herald the approach of these storms. Kurtal also wears a jakuli (pearl shell pendant), one of the sacred objects used in rainmaking ceremonies, which he stole from other jila men across the desert.
This excerpt from the ‘Kurtal wanyjurla wanyjurla’ song recounts Kurtal’s journey from the saltwater Country to Kaningarra:
In the north-west I saw leaping fish
sparkling in the sunlight.
Carrying the sacred object I wade through the water.
The waves carry me down to the depths.
In the north-west I saw a seagull.
The seagull was speaking.
I saw lightning flickering in the north;
I was the rain cloud.
I am Kurtal.
I bring the game and make the Country fruitful.
The wind is wild, the lightning flickers above.
Up there Kaningarra is crying, the wind roars.
I am Kaningarra, the great rock.
Look to the south, that level ground is sloping now. Who is that coming after me?
I am a maparn [magic man] but I’m losing my powers.
Look to the west.
See his headdress.