Ngarinyin Pathway Project

The Ngarinyin people of north-western Australia are the custodians of the world’s oldest known figurative art that records a distinct society. The fine, blood coloured paintings of graceful people that are preserved in sandstone rock shelters throughout their homeland create a rare cultural resonance and residue of extraordinary antiquity. Every painting is a story, every painting is an ancestor and every painting marks a place of cultural significance. When Ngarinyin people give the name of the artists, they say  “Gwion Gwion”.

Pathway Project began as a collaboration in 1992 when the senior Ngarinyin munnumburralaw experts–decided they must document and reveal evidence of the origins of their culture, based in Wunan law, to secure native title rights in Australian law. Beginning beneath the Guloi plum tree icon–a visual metaphor for education–they began to record junjun–evidence–on their dulwan nimindi–pathway of knowledge.

Ngarinyin knowledge reveals the origins of the complex and civilising laws of Aboriginal Australia, known as the Wunan.  The Wunan began with one work of art–the essential form of justice created by the visionary artist Wibalma and freed by Wodoi and Jungan. The historic Wunan conference and consensus that followed the liberation of the object of justice, was held around the great stone table and ended the archaic nomadic epoch through sharing land and blood by marriage.

The Wunan laws of belonging to land were the motive for the Gwion Gwion artists marking of country with human images, on sandstone, across the Kimberley region.

The archive of evidence recorded by Aboriginal experts through the Pathway Project contains knowledge that redefines human history in Australia.


With a shared aim to communicate meaning active in art and country, we continue Pathway Project as cross cultural education and a digital era extension of the Wunan. Pathway Project is forming a team of members and engaging with Ngarinyin partners in education. Together we can educate by agreement how the first society and oldest continous cultural network in the world, recorded by Gwion Gwion rock art, originated and evolved under Wunan law.

Art is both residue and resonance of human history so the Pathway Project photographic evidence and verbal testimony was only recorded on site under the supervision of four Ngarinyin munnumburra–law experts who speak before their rock art heritage.

In their country, where Wanjina water is revered as the source of human fertility, visitors must listen and will learn that Gwion Gwion rock art and Wunan law of blood and land are inseperable, and alive at the heart of Ngarinyin culture today. As the four munnumburra Ngarjno Ungudman Banggal Nyawarra  tell us in unison–

“Gwion Gwion was a secret … to protect man … blood … law.”



Ancestral name of late Laurie Gawanali from Brrejainga district. Renowned songman, fine craftsman and expert munnumburra of Wodoi skin within the ornad moiety whose spiritual connections including jalnga (native water chestnut) and Gubu.ngarri the king brown snake ancestor who left fossilised faeces as white ochre used for paint.


Ancestral name of the late Paddy Wamma from Morrongo Morrongo district. Expert naturalist, songman and senior munnumburra of Jungun skin within the amalar moiety whose spiritual connections include freshwater crocodile and native tobacco or wamma–source of his public name.


Ancestral name of the late David Mowaljarlai (OA) from Brejirad district. Respected advocate, cultural translater, artist, and published educator as a senior munnumburra of Wodoi skin within the ornad moiety whose spiritual connections include jirad (native hibiscus) and the Gwion Gwion bird.


Ancestral name of Paddy Neowarra from Galeru.ngarri homeland. Prominent community leader, educator, and senior munnumburra of Wodoi skin within the ornad moiety whose spiritual connections include Walamba (red kangaroo) rain, frogs and black basalt rock the natural symbol of his public name.