The Art of Healing gift range

The ‘Art of Healing’ gift range illustrates Indigenous healing methods of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

For 65,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have occupied the lands, with distinct cultural boundaries defined by intimate relationships with Country. Through contemporary art, communities share examples of healing practice and bush medicine from many distinct and varied Indigenous communities across Australia.

The range features selected works from the
University of Melbourne Medical History Museum Collection.

Mulkun Wirrpanda Yukuwa

Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda (b. 1946–2021)
language: Dhudi-Djapu
clan: Dhudi-Djapu / Dha-malamirr
moiety: Dhuwa
artist location: Yirrkala, Northern Territory

Yukuwa, 2014
linocut, edition 22/30
40.0 × 46.0 cm (image)
58.0 × 76.0 cm (sheet)
MHM2017.40, Medical History Museum

Yukuwa (Vigna vexillata or Native Cowpea) is a trailing pea with yellowish flowers tinged with purple, and a long, edible root. The Yolngu eat the roots to treat constipation.

This work is the outcome of a phase where the artist of her own motion explored lesser-known plant species, which she feared were being forgotten by younger generations. She wanted to renew the knowledge of these plants, because when she was young this was the food that she grew up on. In those days old people lived for a long time, without illness.

Shirley Purdie Thalngarrji / Snappy Gum / Eucalyptus brevifolia

Shirley Purdie (b. 1947)
skin: Nangari
language: Gija / Kimberley Kriol
Country: Gilburn (Mabel Downs Station)
artist location: Warmun, Western Australia

Thalngarrji / Snappy Gum / Eucalyptus brevifolia, 2016
natural ochre and pigments on canvas , 45.0 × 45.0 cm
MHM2017.20, Medical History Museum

Thalngarrji (Snappy Gum or Eucalyptus brevifolia) is boiled into a tea or made into a rubbing cream for sore throats and chest colds. It can also be boiled to soak sores. Thalnagarrji branches are also used for smoking ceremonies, to cast out bad spirits from people.

Treaehna Hamm Dhungala cool burn

Treahna Hamm (b. 1965)
language: Yorta Yorta
Country: Yorta Yorta
artist location: Yarrawonga, Victoria

Dhungala cool burn, 2017
acrylic paint, river sand, bark ink, paper on canvas
100.9 × 114.0 cm (each of three panels)
MHM2017.2, Medical History Museum

Bush medicine and knowledge have been connected to what is known as ‘cool burns’ in many parts of traditional Aboriginal homelands, usually practised during the autumn months. Low-intensity fire was and is done to manage and maintain plant, tree and grass growth. It regenerates and brings into being new growth, buds and shoots, continuing the cultural process of gathering food and medical resources. This process was part of a vast knowledge that is held between the sky, land, people and wildlife, all connected within lore and story to people and land. Cool burns were also practised to clear built-up areas of bushland, so that hunting and gathering would be easier, and foods and bush medicines more clearly recognised in the environment.

The triptych depicts traditional times of Yorta Yorta women and girls collecting bush foods and remedies, with their dilly-bags hung from their shoulders—after cool burning occurs. The figures stand in honour of ancestral knowledge along the bank of dhungala (the Murray River), which is symbolised by the hands of ancestors holding billabong sediment. This also contains the symbolism of healing, along with the continued benefits of medicinal knowledge, hand in hand with spirituality in more than 2000 generations of people on Country. The oval shapes in the foreground are coolamons; inside them are seeds, pods and reeds that have been gathered before the cool burning took place. The coolamons have been painted with local river-bark ink. Its use is vastly versatile, as the bark ink is also used in the creation of medicine in Yorta Yorta Country.

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