George Malibirr
Garr (Spiders)
c. 1984

George Malibirr
Galumay (Spider web)
c. 1985

Retja is the dwelling for the mokuy spirits. This is the place where the spirits perform their nightly ritual formality that advances through the night to the break of dawn.

-- Billy Black, Wolkpuy-Murrungun People

The Aboriginal idea of the jungle is a foreign notion to Europeans. When Europeans first settled Australia they thought that jungles mirrored the uncontrollable, primitive nature of the indigenous people who inhabited it. Popular texts romanticized the jungle as the edge of human civilization?either a hellish enigma or a paradise. Jungles were thought of as impenetrable and of little use economically except for hunting or gathering exotic wood. However, twentieth-century botanists, zoologists, and entomologists began to see these places as being rich repositories of rare species. This century, with worldwide ecological disaster looming, the natural cleansing lung these jungles offer is fully recognised.

A much denser habitation than forests, jungles are a place where the Yolgnu find yams, a food source often represented by women and evident in the sculpture made from bark and string. Other representations of yams include Fred Nganganharralil's bark painting of long yams (ganguri). George Malibirr's images of spiders also represent an insect that inhabits the jungles. His bark painting Spiders (garr) depicts a spider's web through geometric planes of color, as does his sculpture Spider Web (garr'ku yalu') made from bark fiber string, ochres, and feather down.