Bush Medicine Leaves is a well-documented story painted by the women artists of Utopia in Central Australia. The bush medicine leaves are collected by the women and are highly prized for their restorative powers as part of traditional health practices.
Bush medicine leaves derive from a particular native shrub which grows abundantly in the desert regions of Utopia, north-east of Alice Springs. During the life of the plant, the leaves change colour and exhibit different medicinal properties. The artists who paint this story represent the leaves as they float to the ground, and they employ a range of brush strokes and colours to represent the leaves at different times of the year.
When the leaves of the shrub are green they are gathered by the women and ground up using a stone. Then the medicine leaf compound is mixed with water to form a milky solution, which can be used to cure coughs, colds and flu-like symptoms.
Also the medicine leaves can be collected and boiled to extract the resin, which is then mixed together with kangaroo fat. The paste that is created can be stored for six months in bush conditions. This resulting medicine can then be used to heal cuts, wounds, bites, rashes and spread as an insect repellent.
The bush medicine leaves can also be made into a mixture to apply to aching joints or to place on the temples to cure headaches. Like all aspects of traditional Aboriginal culture, knowledge of bush medicine has been passed down from generation to generation over thousands of years, and is still being used today by the people of Utopia.
In painting the Bush Medicine Leaf story, the artists of Central Australia pay homage to the spirit of the medicinal plant. By creating its image the artists encourage the regeneration of the bush medicine plant, so that her people can continue to benefit from its healing powers. Gloria Petyarre was the Utopia artist who initially developed the style and representation of the Bush Medicine Leaf story. Other artists from her clan group have continued to paint this story, including artists Rosemary Petyarre, Jeannie Petyarre, Dulcie Long Pwerle, Abie Loy Kemarre and Janet Golder Kngwarreye.