Saltwater Country, 1988 (previous title, Yellow Rain)
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
164.2 x 247.5cm
Anthony Knight purchased directly from the artist at Ngukurr
Artist’s Retrospective Exhibition: Mother in Mind: The Art of Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, VIC, 17 July – 22 September 1997
Government House, Melbourne, VIC, 1993-1997
Judith Ryan, Mother in Mind: The Art of Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1997, cover image and p. 48 (colour illustration) and p.29.
Saltwater Country, 1988 held a special place in Riley’s heart. In fact, when it was returned from Melbourne’s Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi in 1988 for not being ‘exhibition worthy’, instead of disposing of the work, the artist chose to treasure it under his bed. Many years later this exact work adorned the cover of the artist’s retrospective catalogue at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. It finally achieved the recognition it deserved.
Created in the second year that the artist began painting with acrylics, Saltwater Country was one of Riley’s first heroic landscapes capturing his Mother’s Country for which he was caretaker. This area around Limmen Bight and the Limmen Bight River in the Northern Territory of Australia includes the land formation, the Four Archers located approximately 55 kilometres inland as well as the Maria and Beatrice Islands at the mouth of the River. Almost as a homage to his mother, Riley represents her in Saltwater Country as the cloud and the sun which lights up the sky.
The vastness in the topography of this country is captured in Saltwater Country, 1988. In the 1997 retrospective catalogue, Curator Judith Ryan states, “To the left is the coastal salt water flowing into the mouth of the Limmen Bight River, which flows through mudflats, broadening and narrowing in a winding course through Mara Country until it reaches Barrkuwirriji, the ravine in the middle of the Four Archers. The Limmen Bight River, like a clear, blue, undulating Ribbon from the air is a dramatic visual accent in much of Riley’s work, serving to anchor it on his mother’s country. A previous title for the painting, Yellow Rain, indicates the most striking features of the wet season composition: a bright yellow sky heavy with a build-up of blue rain clouds and drops of rain.”
Yellow rain was a working title Judith Ryan gave the painting for the retrospective. While Riley initially accepted the name, he decided to retitle it Saltwater Country because he felt it was milestone work depicting country and he wanted to assert the significance of what was being represented.
 Beverly Knight, Biography of Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, 2018. According to Beverly “…the artist’s mother is the cloud and the sun, and his paintings often depict heavy rain-filled clouds or fine rain and bright sunlight, his creation story.”
 Judith Ryan, Mother in Mind: The Art of Ginger Riley Munduwalawala, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1997, p.29.