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It is with great sadness that I observe the death of Dr B Marika, an inspiring Yolngu chieftain and a deeply respected senior member of the Rirratjingu clan of northeast Arnhem Land.

Dr Marika AO was raised in a family of powerful legislators, artists and intellectuals. She became a vivid embodiment of all this knowledge and she held it to the highest levels of scholarship. Dr Marika was a daughter of Malawan Marika, who was a signatory of the 1963 Yirrkala Bark petition and sponsor of Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, the first real land rights case in Australia. Malawan entrusted B Marika and her sisters with the role of custodians of the sacred designs and stories of the clan.

She has become internationally recognized for her extremely detailed work, executed on bark, linocut and screen printing. “The importance of art is that it contains laws, it contains protocols, it contains something that you can pass on to your children and grandchildren,” she once said.

Dr Marika has always made it clear to his children and grandchildren that their country is home to an active spiritual world. Of these spiritual inhabitants, she said, “They also have feelings. You have to respect them because they also have to survive in this difficult country. It’s not just you as a human being.

Dr Marika was the first Aboriginal person elected to the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Australia. She hired – and beat – a company that blatantly stole her art creations (and those of others) and had them printed on rugs imported to Australia. Dr Marika was named Principal Territorial of the Year in 2020 for the leadership she has given as an artist and conservationist.

I knew her and admired her. We have lost a person who spoke with such knowledge and such love for his land and his people. I offer my condolences to the family of Dr Marika and the Rirratjingu people.

About Marion Alexander

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