Balangjangalang are very wise and respected little spirits who live in the trees in the rocky escarpment around Barunga in south east Arnhem Land. They are also very powerful and have such a great love of children that they will pick up any child who appears to be alone or neglected and take it up into their home in the rocky escarpment. Sometimes they leave the child in a tree, sometimes in caves or inside rocks, which they are capable of opening just by blowing on them. In the Dreamtime a mother called Narditjan went out hunting, taking with her Gamang, her daughter, so that she could look after her small brother Gammarrang. Balang, the father, who was staying at home in the camp, exhorted Narditjan to watch out for Balangjangalang and not leave the two children alone.
They came to a spot where there was some good bush tucker. The mother went off looking for yams and goannas, and when a goanna ran from one of the holes in a sand dune she called out to her daughter to help her. While they were chasing the goanna, a Balangjangalang spirit man came along and saw the child sitting beneath a tree. Thinking he had been abandoned, he picked up the boy and took him home. When the mother and sister of Gammarrang finally gave up the chase and returned to the place where they had left the baby, they were horrified to find him gone. They went home and told Balang, who was very angry that they had disobeyed him.
Each day they returned to the same spot, but in the end they decided that the Balangjangalang had taken the child and went up into the rocky escarpments searching for him. After several months they found him sitting up in a tree, and joyfully took him back to their camp. Many years later, when Gammarrang had grown into a young man, his mother and father could not understand how he was so clever and more knowledgeable than his sisters and brothers. They decided eventually that it was because the Balangjangalang had instilled into him their own power and wisdom. They realised then that he would eventually become a great and respected leader of his people.
In this painting Paddy has depicted a Balangjangalang spirit with ceremony sticks.