In this painting, Marie Ryder has depicted women collecting merne utyerrke, known as the wild or desert fig (Brachypoda). Merne means food in Marie’s language and utyerrke is the fig.
The figs grow on a large shrub that is found throughout Central Australia. This shrub has smooth grey bark and large glossy green, leathery leaves that were often used in women’s leaf games and love magic. When the figs mature they turn a yellow tint and then to red-brown. These are an important food source and can grow at any time of the year in frost free areas, depending on rainfall. The figs are also an extremely important drought food due to their storage abilities; they can be ground into a paste and rolled into balls for later use. In Aboriginal mythology this plant is also very important and in some places so sacred that anyone known to damage it may be killed.
Women are depicted in this painting by the footprints they leave in the sand as they walk. Circular motifs on the sides represent ceremonial body paint designs.
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