Painting from the NGURRUWARRA/ DERNDERNYIN: Stone Fish Traps Of The Wellesley Islands

NGURRUWARRA / DERNDERNYIN: Stone Fish Traps of the Wellesley Islands

3 May – 24 November 2024

Recommended for all ages

Queensland Museum Kurilpa, Entry via level 2


Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that the following pages may contain images and/or names of persons who have since passed away.

Be transported to the Wellesley Islands region in the Gulf of Carpentaria through NGURRUWARRA / DERNDERNYIN: Stone Fish Traps of the Wellesley Islands, a culturally significant and large-scale commissioned work of art that surveys ancient stories and relationships across the seas, lands and skies of Traditional Owner communities throughout the Wellesley Islands region.

Presented on a panoramic 20-metre-long by 2-metre-wide canvas, the artwork highlights stone-walled intertidal fish traps, which are central to Kaiadilt, Lardil, Yangkaal and Gangalidda culture, story and identity.

The title Ngurruwarra (Kayardilt language) / Derndernyin (Lardil language) translates as ‘stone fish traps’, which are a key element of material culture shared across the Wellesley Islands region and believed to be the largest aquaculture structures built by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Multimedia elements complement the experience, including videos of artists working on Mornington Island and a restored 1982 recording of the late Kaiadilt Elder Dugal Goongarra telling the Crane, Seagull and Rock Cod story which includes details of how fish traps are built. 

The artwork was created collaboratively by ten Kaiadilt, Lardil and Gangalidda artists. Each artist painted multiple sections of the canvas, with artists negotiating with each other to ensure continuity of story across the canvas. Between them, the artists, are custodians of a deep-seated knowledge of Country.

This artwork was commissioned by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) to celebrate the relationships between Traditional Owners and researchers working on Country.

The artists dedicate this artwork to the late brilliant Dibirdibi Elsie Gabori, who passed away after the work was completed. She is sorely missed.


For accessibility assistance for this exhibition, please visit our accessibility page or contact the museum on (07) 3153 3000. Learn more.

Listen: Episode Six of CABAHCAST

This podcast episode delves into the traditional Indigenous technique of constructing stone-walled intertidal fish traps around the Wellesley Islands in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria, located in Far North Queensland. It also discusses NGURRUWARRA / DERNDERNYIN: Stone Fish Traps Of The Wellesley Islands, an artwork that pays homage to this ancient practice, celebrating the Country and the identities of its creators. Learn more here

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that the following pages may contain images and/or names of persons who have since passed away.

NGURRUWARRA / DERNDERNYIN: Stone Fish Traps of the Wellesley Islands is a collaboration by established and emerging artists from Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation, Mornington Island Art (MIArt).


  • Images of Amy Loogatha and Elsie Gabori: MIArt
  • Remaining artist images: Cristina Bevilacqua
Artist Amy Loogatha


Born 1942 at Dulkawalne, Bentinck Island

“I was born behind Nyinyilki on Bentinck Island. I remember when I was small and planes used to fly overhead, we used to run and hide in the mangroves. It was fun playing and growing up on Bentinck as small girls, but that soon changed when they came and took us away and dumped us on Mornington Island in 1946. Life was very hard in the dormitory. We were fed flour with weevils in it, we had to bathe in saltwater, and our clothes were made out of rough material like the canvas we now paint on. I went out to the mainland to work for a few years on stations before coming back to Mornington and having children. When our land rights came, it was great to be free of Mornington Island and be able to return to our home. I took my grandchildren with me to show them their traditional Country and to live on our homeland once again.”
Artist Agnes Kohler


Born 1952 at Mornington Island

“I was born soon after my people crossed over to Mornington Island. In those days, the Lardil mob fostered or adopted us as their family. The Jacobs adopted me and my sister Gay. In the 60s, I was sent out to work on the mainland. I worked at Julia Creek. As I raised my family, I also adopted a few more children. Now I am surrounded by my family. I used to muck around scribbling, drawing little houses with my kids. My children tell me to join the old people here at the Art Centre, save me from worrying, take my mind off things. It’s also good to be alongside family members at the Art Centre, working, creating and learning together.”

Artist Amanda Gabori


Born 1966 at Mornington Island

“I was born in the township of Gununa on Mornington Island at the old hospital which is now the Council Office. I am one of 10 children. I went to school here on Mornington Island and then went to Atherton State School to complete years 11 and 12. I have four children and two grandchildren. I started painting when I was just sitting at home and wanted to go up and join my Mum, Sally Gabori, painting as she was really enjoying it. I paint my Country on Bentinck Island and Dibirdibi, which is my language name and totem given to me by my Father.”
Artist Bereline Loogatha


Born 1966 at Kallaha Station

“My language name is Juda, named after my Mother’s Mother from Bentinck Island, and my birth sign is the Dingo. I have four children and five grannies. I have watched my Mother paint and decided to paint as stress relief and I find it relaxing. It’s my way of protecting, keeping, and teaching Country, language, lores and customs for future generations so they would not be lost. I am a big believer in passing on knowledge to the next generation so that they become grounded in who they are.”
Artist Coralie Thompson


Born 1952 at Mornington Island

“I was born at Kunhanhaa on Mornington Island in 1952. My language is Lardil and my language name is Kuthakin. I like old stories and I like painting them as well as the animals and birds on Country. I also really like painting scenes of how things used to be—the old village and things like that.”
Artist Elsie Gabori


Born 1947 at Minikurri, Bentinck Island, died 2023 at Gununa, Mornington Island

“I was born on Bentinck Island. When I was about two or three years old our people were all taken from Bentinck Island to the mission on Mornington Island. I was placed in the dormitory and kept away from my parents. I attended the mission school along with the Lardil children of Mornington Island. I went to school until I turned 15, and then I went to work as a housemaid in the mission house. I was paid about 10 shillings a week, but we lived off the land and sea and didn’t really need money. I was sent to work as a house servant on a cattle property on the mainland for three years before I returned to Mornington Island. I raised a family of three girls and two boys with my partner Bob Thompson. I went up to the Art Centre with Mum to keep her company and decided to try painting for myself. I found that I loved it as well. I really want to become a good artist like my Mum and paint about Bentinck Island and my people and their stories.”

Artist Dolly Loogatha


Born 1946 at Thundi, Bentinck Island

“I was only a small child when our people were brought to Mornington Island and forced to live in the mission. I grew up in the dormitory like all the other children. My Father, King Alfred, was killed when I was only a baby, so I was really grown up by the missionaries. It was hard, they were cruel to us if we were naughty and would lock us up or cut our hair really short. As I grew into a young woman I went and worked on lots of cattle stations around Cloncurry and ended up moving to Darwin where I had a partner and lived there for 30 years away from Mornington Island and Bentinck Island. I only came back in 2008 so that I could be with my family and live back on Bentinck Island. Now I go to the Art Centre every day to paint my stories and keep my memories alive. I paint Thundi where I was born and Makarrki where my Father was born. It makes me feel good and proud when I see the finished painting.”

Artist Dorothy Gabori


Born 1952 at Mornington Island

“I am the fifth child of my Mother, Sally Gabori. My Father was Pat Gabori; he was a hunter, a hard-working old fella. We used to go bush with our parents who taught us a lot about our homelands, both Bentinck Island and Sweers Island. I love being at the Art Centre with my sisters and the rest of my family. We learn so much from the old people about our land and Country. There are always so many activities to get into; I am glad that we have the Art Centre to go to."
Artist Gloria Gavenor
Born 1948 at Mornington Island

“After my Dad died we were left alone with Mum, and so she decided to return to Mornington Island, as she knew she’d receive support from her family. My sister Edna was six and I was a baby. We went into the dormitory whilst Mum lived in the settlement. I stayed in the dormitory until I was sent to work at 16 on a station called Blackmoor outside of Cloncurry. The dormitory system was shut down in 1954 and children returned to their parents; I returned home at the age of 20. I met my husband, Eric Gavenor, a Lardil man. We got married at the old church, against my parents’ wishes. I was a stay-at home mum and raised my children. It was during this time I became involved with the Art Centre through my Mum, who was making hats to sell and for dancers. She was my, and my children’s, example to follow in dance hat making and in painting.”
Artist Joelene Roughsey


Born 1982 in Mt Isa

Joelene is a proud Lardil woman and belongs to the Langunanji clan. She was born in Mt Isa in 1982 but grew up on Mornington Island. Her language name is Madar meaning the stem of the water lily swaying in the breeze. Joelene is an accomplished painter and is part of the next generation of Lardil artists. Many of Joelene’s pieces have been inspired by the work of her famous relative, Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey. Her work depicts traditional stories and cultural practices. Joelene is also a dancer with the Mornington Island Dancers. Joelene’s daughter was born in 2012. She is raising her girl to be strong and proud. She is determined to keep culture strong and is passionate about sharing Lardil stories and culture with her daughter and nieces.

Dugal Goongarra: Crane, Seagull and Rock Cod (English Translation)

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that the following pages may contain images and/or names of persons who have since passed away.

This story was recorded by Nicholas Evans in the Kayardilt language of the South Wellesley Islands from the late Dugal Goongarra in September 1982. It was then transcribed and translated by Nicholas with the help of the late Darwin Moodoonuthi. The present version has been re-checked and re-transcribed for maximum accuracy.

The following is the English translation of the recording that can be heard within the exhibition.

1 “My brother has been going along southward through the bush for a long time. Far out at sea. After travelling through the bush, my brother is far out at sea, and will come up on Sweers Island, on Sweers Island he’ll come ashore. After travelling through the bush for a long time, my brother is far out to sea. He will land eastwards on Sweers Island (across the sea to the southeast). He will land on Sweers Island, will land on Sweers Island. My brother has been travelling along for a long time. He’s far off, way out at sea. He’s been heading eastwards far out at sea, my brother, for a long time”.

2 She (Seagull) went along travelling, carrying a coolamon under her arm. She held up her coolamon towards the east, his (Crane’s) sister carried it under her arm. Crane looked from the north (for his sister), from the east he cast his eye: “My sister has sat down far in the east at Burririy. At Burririya my sister has sat down”.

3 His sister came from the north, went walking around from Burririya in the north. She saw him “Hey, he’s sitting down on Sweers Island”. Her brother was staying on Sweers Island.

4 He went south. He built up the fish trap, carried stones. Built the corner coming from the east. First, he built up the corner of the fish trap coming from the east and a corner in the west. Built up a bulge towards the south, went along building up the fish trap. Finished the corner, finished it with a high corner. Going south he moved it along to the east, building on another corner, made it go further, (until) it came to rest high, near the beach, yeah.

5 He went eastward, then came to rest in the south, went down to the south, and found another (place for a) fish trap, (a place where) turtles get trapped, where trevally get trapped. Queenfish get trapped in that fish trap. Purple rock cod and coral trout, coral trout get trapped in that fish trap. Spangled perch, white school bream, nail fish get caught there in the fish trap. Turtles and dugongs go up onto the beach.

6 (Black Crane) sat with his legs crossed and looked at the land in the east, looked east and (then) travelled eastward. He sat cross-legged in the shadow of a casuarina tree, in the shade of a casuarina tree he sat cross-legged.

7 (He) went down to the south and built another fish trap. To the south, he took (stones), piled (them) up, went back northward, went back northward. In the west, at the corner, (he) piled the stones up high, made it high. Turtles get caught (there) but not dugongs, dugongs don’t get caught in that fish trap. Turtles get caught there, turtles get caught in that fish trap. (He) went back west, at the corner, he built it high. Fish got caught in that one, rock cod, groper. Rock cod, groper, and greasy cod. Greasy cod got caught in that one, small rock cod, long-tailed rock cod. Bonefish, herrings of different kinds got trapped there in the fish trap.

8 He stood up and looked to the south, yeah, went to the south. and stuck stones in the back of it. Another fish trap, he stuck one fish trap behind another. There to the south he took it. Built it up southward, south at the corner, he built it high at the corner. Raised the stones high. Went up eastward, went up north. Moved all around heading back west, piled them up, carried the stones, put them on his head, made the corner high, made the corner of the fish trap high. (He) went north, to the north. A small corner, a small, low, really small one. Made it high in the south, the stones are really high (there). Put another corner on, and in the west built up a corner, and another corner. The corner lagoon, he looked at the lagoon (i.e. the enclosed body of water in the fish trap), and said: “Fish will get caught there (now). Giant herrings and bonefish will get caught there in the fish trap”.

9 ‘(He) stood and looked at the north lagoon, bathed in the lagoon and cleaned the mud off himself, bathed in the lagoon and cleaned mud off himself, after building, after building and building, he had built fish traps all over the place. Since morning, for a long time he had been building fish traps. He cleaned mud off himself in the lagoon, cleaned mud off himself in the lagoon, bathed in the small lagoon. He went ashore in the north, went back westwards along the beach, and lit a fire, made a fire with (his) fire drill, rubbed fire sticks together, a big fire stick, and took a small one, rubbed them, and smoke came up. He put the flame in some dried grass, burned it, and the flames came up, he was hungry, hungry. A yam (vine) was running up in the north, and he dug, dug up yams. He had dinner, dug up yams, and came back from the north, sat down by the fire, stayed there sitting with his legs crossed.

10 He looked at the country in the east, wanting to go east. He got up and put his pronged spear on his shoulder, and his spears, and took his woomera in his hand, and went down southward to the beach. Yeah, eastward along the beach he travelled, he travelled eastward. From the salt pan in the north, from Jiilki in the north, going down onto the beach. Going eastward along the beach, yeah, (he saw) his sister (coming down) here in the east. Jiilki, his sister was at Jiilki. His sister didn’t stay at Jiilki. She had gone through the bush from the north, his sister, (and was) in the south at the fishing spot. His sister was at the fishing spot, there near him, she had come after him from the north. Her brother was ahead of her, in the south, the one from there, the custodian of Sweers Island.

11 There at fishing spot he was pounding, he pounded the bait, but nothing, from the east no (fish) were running, no barracuda were running from the east, no slender barracuda or pike, no rock cod or long-tailed rock cod were running from the east, or from the south or running from the north, nothing. The fat was thrown to the east (as bait). “Hey, here comes a big rock cod from the east.” It was speared in the head, and didn’t escape, it just stayed there by the bait. It was dead, he dragged it to the west. “Here he comes from the east” (thinks his sister). 

12 The person from there, Seagull, from there, was in the north at Jiilki. Crane was in the northeast, he pounded (bait) at another fishing spot. At a certain fishing spot in the north, Crane was pounding (bait). The fellow from Sweers was in the west. He speared that fellow, speared Groper, ran along dragging him from the north, Crane did. His sister saw him, from high up to the north, as she went along the beach carrying a coolamon. Crane was standing by the rock cod’s tail, by the Groper, as victor in the hunt.

13 ‘[Groper] was born at that place, he was a Sweers Island person. A great big fellow, he speared him with a handle, not with a barbed spear but just with a spear shaft. Its liver was thrown to the north, in the north the liver was thrown. Groper was dragged northward, in the north, and (Crane) bathed in the water by the rocks. ’He dragged (Groper) along as it danced, he made (Groper’s body) dance as he dragged it along through the water. He dragged it along through the water making it dance. Its liver was thrown away to the north, its liver fell in the north. He chopped it up there with an axe, cut it with a shell knife. 

14 Going along through the mangrove scrub, (with) stingray bait. He carried the bait, high up going eastwards, the bait was taken. High up going eastwards the bait was taken, (Rock Cod) had been speared at in the country to the west, (but) (the spear) didn’t find him. (As he swam, Rock Cod) made the little islands, Duurathi, Karndingarrbay, Nathayiiwind. Black Crane had missed killing him earlier and after that Rock Cod had gone around, He had gone eastwards there, (Crane) had carried the bait, Crane had travelled, and his sister said: “My brother is far off, he is travelling a long way”.

Ngurruwarra/Derndernyin: Stone Fish Traps of the Wellesley Islands Catalogue

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this publication may contain images and/or names of persons who have since passed away.

This catalogue is published by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage in partnership with Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation.

Download here

Front cover of catalogue Ngurruwarra/Derndernyin

  •  ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) logo
  • Aus Research Council logo
  • James Cook University logo
  • Mirndiyan Gununa logo

The artwork and the scientific research have been supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence scheme (Project Number CE170100015). Views expressed are those of the artists and are not necessarily those of the Australian Government or Australian Research Council.


Stone Fish Traps of the Wellesley Islands

Acrylic on canvas. 20m x 2m

CABAH Art Series Commission in association with Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation, Mornington Island Art (MIArt)

Ngurruwarra / Derndernyin was commissioned by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) in association with the Mornington Island Art Centre (Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation). The artwork is part of the CABAH Art Series, which initiated in 2018 to engage artists with aspects of CABAH’s research to make new work that responds to, questions, and interprets the research for broader audiences. 

Based and painted on the lands and waters of the Kaiadilt, Lardil, Yangkaal and Gangalidda Traditional Owners of the lands, seas and skies of the Wellesley Islands region. CABAH acknowledge the Traditional Owners and sovereign custodians of the land and waters throughout Australia and the Torres Strait Islands, and pay respects to Elders, past and present, and to all First Nations Peoples.

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