Ocean Guardian – Malu Yawa Garka

Post date: 
Wednesday, 18 March 2020

“Stingrays … glide over the Reef without touching the coral, just as humankind should not touch the Reef.”  Brian Robinson, 2017

Ocean Guardian (2017), a cast aluminium stingray by Brian Robinson, relays the creation story of the Great Barrier Reef ‘Gunya and the Sacred Fish story’ as told by Gimuy Walabura Yidinji elder Gudju Gudju (Seith) Fourmile in David Attenborough’s documentary Great Barrier Reef (2015). 

“The story starts with Gunyah going out to sea. And he saw a glitter in the water, which he thought was a fish. And when he speared it, he actually speared our sacred fish, the stingray. So the fish got angry and it started to rise up. And with its wings, it made the sea rough and it caused the sea to rise.” Gudju Gudju (Seith) Fourmile, 2015

Brian Robinson (b. 1973) is a multi-skilled artist whose practice includes painting, printmaking, sculpture, public art and curating. His work is inspired by his Torres Strait Islander heritage and his passion for pop culture and history. Robinson grew up on Waiben (Thursday Island) and is part of the Kala Lagwa Ya and Maluyligal Language groups of the Torres Strait. He also has Wuthathi (Shelbourne Bay, Cape York) and Dayak (Borneo) heritage. 

Brian Robinson, Kala Lagaw Ya/Maluyligal/Wuthathi/Dayak people
Ocean guardian, 2017. AIATSIS, AIAS585.210619_001
Photograph by Luis Lim.

The sculpture is linked to Robinson’s maternal great grandmother Nara Jira Para of the Wuthathi people. The stingray, yama, is one of their clan totems. This giant ray was washed ashore and turned on its back, exposing its pure white belly. Today the belly is reflected in the white sand of Shelburne Bay. 

The back of the stingray is covered in hand-carved mineral. This distinctive design of the Torres Strait, with its origins in Melanesian art, follows the rhythmical forms of pattern and dance. Suspended in space, and hovering as a real stingray might, it acts as a guardian of the reef. Ocean Guardian highlights the growing need to care for our oceans due to increasing environmental damage and risk to reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef. 

“Suspended in space and hovering as real stingray might –acting as a guardian of the reef as it continues its annual migration. The stingray does not make contact with the reef or coral, preferring to move only with the sway of the tide, therefore underlying its benevolent presence as an ocean guardian.” Brian Robinson, 2017

Display of Ocean Guardian in Ngulla Wellamunagaa, Focus Gallery, National Museum of Australia, 2019.

Ocean Guardian can be seen at the Ngulla Wellamunagaa exhibition, Focus Gallery, National Museum of Australia, until 29 March 2020. 



  • Attenborough, David. David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef. Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2016. 577.78909943 ATT DVD.
  • Mitchell, Beverley, ed. Brian Robinson: men + gods. Cairns: KickArts Contemporary Arts, 2012. RB R658.71/M1.
  • Mosby, Tom Mixie. Ilan Pasin = this is our way: Torres Strait art. Cairns: Carins Regional Gallery, 1998. BF M894.10/I1.
  • Australian Conservation Foundation. “Wuthathi return to Dreaming,” Habitat Australia Vol. 45 No. 1. Hawthron, VIC: Australian Conservation Foundation, 2017. p. 6-11. S 54/2.
  • Ngulla Wellamunagaa

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Last reviewed: 24 Mar 2020