Dennis McCarthy



Skin group: YIRRIDJA


Birth date: 7 January, 1961

Place of birth: Winnellie Camp near Darwin, now the site of Shady Glen Caravan Park

Dennis and his family started a gallery for Aboriginal and local art and craft at Humpty Doo in the rural area of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. He has suffered from ill-health due to a bad heart and in early 2008 had to relocate (temporarily) to Victoria.

He lived close to Melbourne, where he was a patient of the Alfred Hospital. He had a mechanical heart (LVAD) inserted in April 2008 while he was awaiting a heart transplant. On Christmas Eve 2008 he received a transplant which, unfortunately, failed.

He was relisted and received his second transplant in late October 2009. He hopes to return to the Northern Territory soon.

Dennis's mother was born to a young girl (about 11 years old) from Murrumburr Clan, in the Patonga/Cooinda area of Kakadu. Her father was a white policeman who never claimed his child. She was taken away at three years old and never saw her mother again. She was taken at first to Kahlin Compound in Darwin then sent to Croker Island. During World War 2 she was amongst a group of children who trekked to Sydney with Sister Sommerville.

Dennis was born on 7 January 1961 at Winnellie Camp near Darwin. During World War 2 Winnellie Camp was a collection of Sidney Williams huts used by the army. At the end of the war this was used as a camp for Aboriginal people. On Dennis' birth certificate it states he was born at Hut 56. Winnellie camp is now the site of Shady Glen Caravan Park

When he was young Dennis lived in several state homes and has little formal education. He never knew his father. He has worked at Seven Spirit Resort and for National Parks at Kakadu. Dennis has re-established contact with his mother's relatives - his grandmother had several more children in a tribal marriage. He has an Uncle at Patonga and many cousins and relations. He takes great pride in the art & craft which is an expression of the culture of the Aboriginal people and learns much of his heritage from sitting and painting with the other artists.

About the Art of the Kunwinjku - Dennis people are the freshwater people of Arnhemland. They paint rarrk - sometimes referred to as X-ray art. They use 'grass', which is the stem of a freshwater reed that has many fibres inside. These are pared to the thickness required for the artist Skin group. The thickness of the lines and the way they applied are very important - besides Skin, they tell the Clan and Country of the artist. While away from home, as the reeds don't grow elsewhere, the artist uses a small brush which is adapted to make the correct lines.

Only the four ochre colours are used; Yellow for the sun. Red for the blood of mother earth - she bleeds for you when you are born and when you die. White is used for body designs in ceremony. Black has secret meanings but is also the charcoal rubbed into cuts to create cicatrices (raised scars) for tribal markings.

January 2010