Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming


The Lizard is one of many animal totems of the Australian Aboriginal people and is represented in Aboriginal art and paintings, as well as ancestral rock paintings and bark art.

Lizard species are still a substantial part of the Central Australian Aboriginal people's diet and are depicted in Bush Tucker paintings as an Aboriginal food source.

In the Utopia region of Central Australia there is one unique Lizard called the Mountain Devil Lizard or Thorny Devil Lizard. This is a predominant Aboriginal Dreamtime Story which tells of the Old Woman Mountain Devil Lizard who travelled the vast regions of the Atnangker country defining the landscape and identifying the sacred sites.

Utopian Artist Violet Petyarre describes this lizard to Sabine: "He's this big (15-20 cms) and he's got spikes. He changes his colour to any colour he wants to. We used to hunt him, but now he's very special and we leave him alone. He belongs to our Atnangker country. We call him Arnkerrth".

The Mountain Devil Lizard is not only unique in its physical appearance but has a deep Aboriginal spirituality as it is the ancestral totem for the famous sisters: Kathleen Petyarre, Violet Petyarre, Myrtle Petyarre, Gloria Petyarre, Nancy Kunoth Petyarre, Jean Petyarre and Ada Bird Petyarre from Utopia region in Central Australia. They inherited the Mountain Devil Lizard (Arnkerrth) from their paternal grandmother and are the custodians of this significant Dreaming. It is their obligation to maintain this Aboriginal Dreamtime story and pass it on to future generations.

To honour this Dreaming the Petyarre sisters each portray a different artistic interpretation of Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming.

Kathleen Petyarre represents the epic journey of the Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming (Arnkerrth) as it travelled across her traditional country (Atnangker) unlike sisters Gloria Petyarre and Violet Petyarre who focus on the Mountain Devil Lizard's physical appearance. Gloria Petyarre's definition of the Mountain Devil Lizard's physical appearance is depicted by the uneven texture and curling pattern, while Violet Petyarre reflects the ability of the Mountain Devil Lizard to change from plain to vivid colours.

The Petyarre sisters Kathleen Petyarre, Gloria Petyarre, Violet Petyarre, Ada Bird Petyarre, Myrtle Petyarre, Nancy Kunoth Petyarre and Jean Petyarre all celebrate the Mountain Devil Lizard in their Awelye ceremony. When they apply the Awelye designs on their bodies they re-enact the Dreaming story and make a deep connection with their country Atnangker and the Dreaming ancestor Arnkerrth the Mountain Devil Lizard.

Ada Bird Petyarre, Violet Petyarre and Myrtle Petyarre celebrate the Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming depicting Awelye designs by illustrating bold and linear patterns in their works.

Aboriginal word glossary