Born in 1955 in his father’s country, Ngalyindi, central Arnhem Land. Burnyila learnt to paint under the tuition of his father, painting the Arafura Swamp and personal totems such as the Yalman (water lilies), Gumang (magpie geese), Warrnyu (flying fox), Banda (Longneck turtles) and Bapi (snakes). Burnyila is also renowned for his single coloured lined rarrk.
Burnyila appeared in the 1967 documentary film Across the Top by Malcolm Douglas, documenting the tradition life in Arnhem Land, The Gulf of Capartaria and Cape York. Burnyila paintings also feature in the Film 12 Canoes and on the website www.twelvecanoes.com documenting Yolngu culture in Ramingining, central Arnhem Land.
Burnyila was at the forefront of Aboriginal Art, being exhibited in the group exhibition Mulgurrum Outstation in 1983, held at the Ewing Paton Gallery, Melbourne. Then featuring in the exhibition ‘Objects and Representations from Ramingining’ in 1984, held at the Power Institute of Contemporary Art, Sydney.
Burnyila acquired an artist in residency in the aboriginal community of Cabletown, NSW in 1985, where he continued to paint and refine his unique style of crosshatching and swamp totems. Burnyila created six Dupun (Hollow Logs) for the renowned 1988 Aboriginal Memorial, an installation of 200 Dupun commemorating the deaths of indigenous people since white occupation. The installation was exhibited at the Biennial of Sydney- beneath the Southern Cross, before moving to the National Gallery of Australia as a permanent display.
Burnyila paintings were displayed in the 1991 exhibition “Art of Arafura swamp” held at the Araluen Centre, Alice Springs. Drawing attention to the Arafura swamp, now listed as a National Heritage Estate by the Commonwealth Government of Australia in 1994.
Burnyila participated in printmaking workshops held in Ramingining, in 1997, by printmaker Theo Trembay. Burnyila produced numerous prints, commonly depicting the Arafura swamp. He further completed a certificate II in Visual Arts at the Charles Darwin University in 2013.
Burnyila was successfully pre selected for the 2012 Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, for his work titled Raypiny dhawu (freshwater story).
With over 30-group exhibitions, and work in numerous public and private collections, Burnyila continues to be a sought after artist.