Steve Wilson (1965-) traces his heritage through his grandmother back to the Muruwari tribe (Muruwari (Moo-roo-warri) - meaning 'to fall (warri) with a fighting club (murru) in one's hand')
The Muruwari people were an important group who occupied an area of Australia from about Cunnamulla in south-west Queensland, southward to the northern bank of the Barwon River near Brewarrina, New South Wales.
The Muruwari tribe believed that Bida-Ngulu (meaning ‘forehead of fire’) was the creator of all things. Bida-Ngulu lived in the sky and his greatest gift to men and women when he created them had been a dhuwidi, or living spirit. He had also given them their totems, which had remained their spiritual affiliation since the Dreamtime. To maintain life, he had also left behind many good spirits which the people believed to be always hovering close to them. Until 1910, the people still spoke to these Muruwari spirits, sometimes singing songs that asked for rain, good hunting, or plant growth.
Bida-Ngulu had a son called Ngulu-Bida who helped him care for the tribe. Unlike his father who lived in the sky, Ngulu-Bida lived, camped and behaved like a human being, but when help was needed, his wisdom and superiority were outstanding.
One of Steve’s inspirations for his art comes from the stories he was told as a child about these spirits of his ancestral country, particularly the son of the creation spirit, Ngulu-Bida. One of these stories goes like this:
At Goombalie, in northwestern New South Wales, some people lived on a slight rise. There were rocks nearby and a very deep hold containing water that made it possible for them to exist in this land. A prolonged drought had made it a bad time for everybody because plant growth was parched, wildlife avoided the region, and food was extremely scarce. The people became very worried when they found they had used all the water in the hold. After talking amongst themselves they decided that it was too far to walk to another place; some of the people were too old or too young to tackle the journey, and everyone was weakened from the lack of food. This was their home and they were frightened. They knew that they might die of thirst whether walking or remaining at the camp, so they could only sit on the hillside and wait for the rain that did not come. For some reason, their appeals to the good spirits of Bida-Ngulu were not successful.
Perhaps his father had told him, for Ngulu-Bida knew of these troubled and isolated people and decided to visit them. On his arrival, they swarmed around him and told him of their great thirst. He replied, “There is water.” The people murmured amongst themselves and asked him to look in the dry hold. Ngulu-Bida must have seen that it was empty, but made no comment. Quietly, he wandered around and gathered a lot of smooth, flat stones. He placed them in a heap near the hole and sat down beside them.
Once again he said, “There is water, you must believe me.” The people still disagreed until Ngulu-Bida said, “Listen,” and dropped on of the stones into the hold. When the stone hit the bottom, the sound it made was of hitting mud and not dry rocks. Ngulu-Bida dropped many more stones until the sound indicated that a small amount of water must be there. As more stones landed they kept hearing an interesting ‘chunk chunk’ and as he dropped more the splashing noise increased. The people were amazed when water rose to the surface and a great volume spread around the hole and formed a beautiful lagoon of fresh, clear water. The people rushed to drink; they had been saved and would live. There was sufficient water for them and their descendants’ birds would be attracted and plant growth would flourish. Ngulu-Bida joined them while they bathed together and were completely refreshed.
It is the continued connection with his heritage that enriches Steve, heals his soul and helps him to maintain his integrity as an indigenous man in a modern urban society.
Steve now lives in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales and draws additional inspiration from the outlying reefs along the coastline, with his main themes being the spawning of the coral and the inhabitants of the reef.
While his heritage is a source of spiritual healing, he also has great respect for the sea and its inhabitants that he says possess amazing healing powers of a physical nature; cleansing, refreshing and restoring all life.
Read the full article in the Artist Profile in Issue 31