Red ochre (badal in Gija)

Red ochre (badal in Gija) showing the overlapping plate-like structure of the clays in the ochre and the star-shaped nanocrystals of iron oxide that give the red colour to the ochre. In some parts of the country red ochre occurs naturally. In others, it needs to be produced by baking yellow ochre. Baking drives off water molecules bound up in the yellow ochre form of iron oxide and turns it into the red form.

The ‘star’ is around 750 nanometres across (1 nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre).

Image: Hongwei Liu

White ochre (mawurntu in Gija)

White ochre is also known as kaolin and china clay. The flat plates of the white ochre give this pigment its smooth and slippery feel. Gija ancestors used white ochre as a disguise when hunting native animals – painting their bodies so that they could not be seen. The ochre also prevents the odour of the body’s sweat from being smelled by the prey, helping the tracker get close enough to kill the animal. Kaolin is often used instead of talc to make modern body powders.

The area in this image is 520 nanometres across (1 nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre).

Image by Hongwei Liu

River Red Gum Leaf (mawurntu in Gija)

The dome-shaped chloroplasts that line these leaf cells capture the sun’s energy to make sugars. These are stored as the white starch granules you can see inside the chloroplasts. That starch will help to fuel the growth of these magnificent trees. Some trees could be as old as 1000 years. River red gums live along water courses throughout Australia and play an essential role in Aboriginal life. River red gum leaves are used for smoking ceremonies (mantha in Gija) when welcoming new visitors on country. They can be used as a bush medicine, treating sores, colds and the flu.

The area in this image is 108 micrometres across (1 micrometre is one thousandth of a millimetre).

Image: Minh Huynh, Elinor Goodman and Margaret Barbour

Badel, Mawundu & Goorndoolji

In this artwork there are a total of six squares but the top three are all representations of different materials and what they look
like, looking closely at them under a microscope. Also below each representation are stories from what I have learnt from my elders within the community. I’ve chosen to include within my artwork.
1.Red Ochre – The star shape figure on the left – I found out what red ochre looks like under the microscope, surrounded by the many other different shades of black, grey and white.
There once was a woman that worked on Texas Downs Station, back in the days when white pastoralists owned Texas. Her name was Goodbarriya, one day as she was looking for sweet sugarbag (bush honey) when horns started suddenly growing from her head. She felt ashamed and did not want to return back home so she stayed in a cave at Red Butte for the rest of her days. Here she became ‘clever’, and was never seen since from anyone.
2. White Ochre – The second piece of square, I have chosen to represent is white ochre – I enjoyed very much painting this. I love the shapes and how each shade overlaps each other.
In the Ngarranggarni (Dreaming), people had a trading relationship with their seaside countrymen for many years. Gija people would exchange hand-made spears for seashells from the saltwater country. Once there was a fight between two man which ended badly, leaving one of them dead. All the trading had stopped and all the spears were dropped at this place in what is now called Texas Downs Station. The pointy shape of the hill is where all the spears were left after the fight. Today it is known as Garlumbuny Hill; garlumbuny is the Gija word for spear.
3. Eucalyptus Leaves – The last square is a representation of eucalyptus leafs (binkany), the leaves from the tree itself are used as medicine, it is very effective when treating sores, cold sick and aching muscles. In the beginning of hot season the eucalyptus leafs are covered with tiny white sugar that you can eat.

Artist: April Nulgit