ARTIST: Polly Ngale (Ngala) c.1940 –
TITLE: Bush Plum (Arnwekety)
LANGUAGE/REGION: Anmatyerre/Utopia – NT
YEAR: 2011
DIMENSIONS: 149.0cm x 89.0cm
MEDIUM: synthetic polymer paints on Belgian linen

Polly Ngale was born in 1940 and belonged to the Anmatyarre tribe. Her father comes from Arlparra and her mother came from Ngwelay, commonly known as Kurrajong Bore. She was married to Ray Yeramba (deceased) and now lives between Camel Camp in Utopia and Alice Springs with her family and sisters, Kathleen Ngala, Maisy Ngala and Angeline Pwerle Ngala. Polly and her aforementioned sisters are the senior custodians of the Bush Plum Dreaming. Polly’s works usually consists of two to three colours that are layered with large brush dotting revealing the colours of Bush Plum in all its seasons. She often uses red, yellow and orange however, as her popularity increases she now also uses all different shades appealing to the contemporary palettes of todays art world. Like many women of Utopia, Polly began her artistic works in batik before painting acrylic onto canvas. She has assisted her sister Kathleen Ngala and also the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye before venturing into her own masterpieces. Polly is fast becoming more and more popular and will soon share the spotlight with her Utopian counterparts.

Bush Plum Dreaming

Polly’s Bush Plums represents the different colours of the fruit as it ripens. The Bush plum was gathered in the wild in bark containers and the fruit would be squelched in water. The juice would then be good enough to drink flavoured with the plum extracts and the seeds would be discarded. The Bush Plum Dreaming and other artworks themed with Bush Foods that Polly creates represent the nutritious and interactive delicacies  that can be found on her country and is a testament to her role as a food gatherer and nurturer. (Source: Anmatyerr Plant Stories, Jenny Green, 2003)

Bush Plum (Wild Plum)

“In central Australia, the wild plum (Santalum lanceolatum) is a clonal shrub about 3 m high with drooping, bluish-green, leathery leaves. The creamy white flowers produce an olive-like fruit that matures from green to purple to black. It is found throughout the central Australia area, but is described as being uncommon, especially in areas that are subject to heavy grazing by cattle, camels and rabbits. This is likely due to its limited fire tolerance, its semi-parasitic nature on the roots of other shrubs and trees and the fact that fruit is only ever produced after rain. Rain events in central Australia are not common and are noted only for their consistent variability. It only grows wild, and is not cultivated.

The wild plum has been an important food in central Australia for tens of thousands of years. The proportion of edible flesh is relatively low, so it cannot be classified as a staple food. The fruit has a quite pleasant taste and dried fruits, collected from under the bush, are easily reconstituted in water. Some indigenous groups are believed to also roast the shell, remove the seeds and grind them into an edible paste, while other indigenous groups use the ground paste as a medicinal ointment. Red juice squeezed from the fruit is sometimes used as a dye.

The wild plum has been an integral part of the central Australian Aboriginal culture and traditions for tens of thousands of years. It is a powerful totemic, with its own sacred sites and as well as being an important food source, is also used as a medicine. The introduction of cattle, camels and rabbits has already reduced the abundance of this shrub and with the change in land use, wild fires are causing rapid ecological changes. More importantly, the continuing loss of knowledge of indigenous cultures and traditions, particularly the complex interrelations between earth, plants and people, poses the greatest threat to this plant.” (Source: retrieved from

Bush Foods (Bush Tucker)

Since time immemorial Aboriginal women have been the principal gatherers of bush foods ie; fruits, plants, edible roots and seeds. The role women play within community is considered as the other half of an indivisible whole. Through ceremony, songs, oral teachings and art, each woman learns their craft from another member of the family (commonly but not always) by another woman who is older. The passing of knowledge from female to female is known as ‘Women’s Business’ whereby men typically cannot participate in the ceremonies and sharing of the knowledge. Understanding and knowing about Bush Foods are a major part of the women’s responsibilities when existing within a community and the contribution of this knowledge allows for the whole existence as a community to thrive and survive. The knowledge and ability to locate foods within the desert is imperative to Aboriginal life. It serves as a means of survival and a way of ensuring Aboriginal existence contributing to human fertility and reproduction.

Read more about Indigenous Culture and Community


© Dreamtime Art 2018

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