Nalan Gugal – Bida (Firemaker – Bark Dish)

Michael Boiyool Anning
Nalan Gugal – Bida (Firemaker – Bark Dish), 2018
Nalan (board) with Gugal (sticks), natural ochres and charcoal on softwood rainforest timber, with twined bush string, 47cm x 9cm.
Photo: Louis Lim


Aboriginal people from the rainforest region of North Queensland made these unique firemakers/firesticks with designs that represented their clan or family group. Firemakers/firesticks were an important possession and carried from camp to camp in bicornual baskets by Yidinji men. In traditional times the Gugal, drill sticks were placed into the eyes on the Nalan, main board, and after adding a small amount of charcoal, twirled rapidly to create friction. Some dry grass is then placed around the base, which eventually ignites, and is transferred to start the main fire in the camp.

The Nalan were often made from softwood such as the Sandpaper fig (Ficus coronata) or Milky pine (Alstonia scholaris), and the Gugal drill sticks were made from the harder wood of the Tetra beech (Tetrasynandra laxiflora). Usually one man from the group had the responsibility of the camp fire and was not allowed to let it go out – the ‘spirit’ of the fire secured the camp. Fire was also the major management tool and ‘firestick’ farming was used particularly in the dry season (winter) to increase economic production in forest ecosystems, to encourage regeneration, and to attract animals.

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