Leonard Bowaynu

Artist and Cultural Advisor

Leonard was born in bush between Djamardi homeland and Blythe River where his mothers covered him with raŋan (paperbark). He explains that he and his family didn’t have a need for much clothing.

Leonard has intricate knowledge of his fathers Gorriyindi country, mothers Walamaŋu country as well as the wäŋa, manikay ga rom (country, songlines and law) of connecting clans Maḻarra and Gamalanga.

In the late 60’s Leonard was taken to the closest community of Maningrida (approximately 200km’s) to attend school however at the age of 7 he ran away and returned to his family at their homeland. He explains, ‘I learnt from following my ŋathi’mirriŋu  (mothers father) – he was a very old men with five wives. My märi (mothers mother) was his first wife. I learnt from him as well as the Maḻara, Walamaŋu and Gamalanga elders. I sat with my ŋathi’mirriŋu during ceremony, and traveled to different country for ceremony – I was learning where to find gapu ga ŋatha (water and food), where the tides ran, and the songlines crossed.’ 

Although Leonard was born on the mainland he lives at Bodiya homeland on Yurrwi (Milingimbi Island). Leonard’s connection to the Walamaŋu wäŋa of Boyida is through his mother – which makes Leonard the djuŋgayi (caretaker) for the wäŋa, manikay ga rom belonging to the Dhuwa area of Milingimbi. As the djuŋgayi Leonard can paint the miny’tji (designs) belonging to Milingimbi and is obliged to watch over and ensure that the Walamaŋu yolŋucorrectly execute their miny’tji, bungul ga rom (painting, ceremony and law). He explains that he can stand at Bodiya and sing the stingray section of the riŋgitj(songline).

Leonard explain’s the interdependent relationship of the Gorriyindi, Walamaŋu Maḻarra and Gamalanga clans and how these relationships are reflected in the wäŋa. One example he gives is of the Gorriyinda, Walamungu and Gamalanga gapu meeting and coming apart at various sites that are called Gapirra. Gapirra and other significant sites are depicted in Leonard’s artworks.

Leonard remembers the strong yolŋu art movement and fishing industry that was based in Milingimbi in the 1970’s. Today Leonard is key in the continuum of ceremonial practice and transmitting of cultural knowledge. Inspired by the teachings of his forefathers he works with youth at risk delivering raypirri(disciple) camps at Rapuma (Leonard’s Gorriyindi homeland). Leonard explains that during the Ŋarra (men’s ceremony) raypirri ga mundhurr(discipline and reward) are given in different forms. ‘The reward is the manikay (song) the men sing to the boys. The Ŋarra is rom ḻuku (law that can’t be moved) and teach’s respect for wäŋa, women and girls, young and old.’   



Language group

Rapuma , Bodiya

Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation

The Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation is a community owned Art Centre that maintains an important position in the national art and cultural arena. Milingimbi Art and Culture has a long history of producing works steeped in active cultural practice such as barks, ceremonial poles, carvings and weavings. Works from Milingimbi are integral to important collections in many National and International institutions.


Contact us

A: Lot 53 Gadupu Rd, Milingimbi via Winellie, NT 0822
P: (+61) 8987 9888
E: [email protected]

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website may contain images and voices of deceased persons.

© Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation

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