NMA collection record

'Making Spears' by Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra, 1975


This acrylic painting represents a Dreaming story in which a group of ancestral men camped at Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay) and lit a fire to flush out kangaroos. The fire quickly got out of control, but posed no threat in this area of sparse vegetation. The background of the painting shows the burnt patches from the nyaru (bushfire). Some distance from the main camp (the main circular shape in the painting) another group of men were making kurlarta (spears) by straightening shafts over a fire. The spears are represented by the lines that radiate from the main camp. The painting, by Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra, measures 2,000 mm x 1,715 mm. This resource includes a line diagram illustrating the symbols used in the painting and a map showing sites of significance.

Educational value

Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra (1932-), a former stockman, was one of the founding members of Papunya Tula Artists and was its chairman in 1975 and again in the early 1990s. He is from the Ngaliya/Warlpiri language groups. During his childhood, Tjakamarra and his family lived off their traditional lands before settling at Haasts Bluff when Tjakamarra was in his teens.

The Papunya artists explain that their paintings come from the Dreaming. Like the natural features that mark out the journeys of ancestral beings and the ceremonies that re-enact these journeys, the paintings are both part of the Dreaming and part of the physical world. Papunya artist Benny (Pinny) Tjapaltjarri says, 'The Dreaming is our explanation of how the landforms appeared. A Dreaming character would come along and stay at a place and then turn into a hill or stone. Sometimes his tracks would become a soak or perhaps a rock hole ... People were also created by the Dreaming. You see, we are all born from our mothers ... but we still come from the Dreaming ... the Dreaming came first'.

By painting the designs and stories that represent their particular Dreaming places, the artists assert their rights and obligations as Central and Western Desert landowners, entrusted with the ritual re-enactment of the events that occurred at these sites. As part of these ceremonies, elaborate ground paintings are constructed using a symbolic language of U shapes, concentric circles, journey lines and bird and animal tracks. This unique visual language is also used in designs painted on the skin, and is the same language made familiar by the Papunya painters.

The Western Desert art movement, which began at Papunya, is considered to be the genesis of contemporary Aboriginal art. Geoffrey Bardon, a young art teacher who worked at Papunya School from 1971 to 1972, is often credited as the founder of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, which was incorporated in 1972. He encouraged the senior men of the various language groups living at Papunya to develop ways of adapting their traditional art to Western materials.

The Australian Government played a crucial role in supporting the painting movement in the years following Bardon's departure from Papunya. In 1973 the Whitlam government formed the Aboriginal Arts Board, with members who were all Indigenous Australians. It fostered Aboriginal arts, literature, theatre, dance, music, painting and craft, and also provided grants for Aboriginal communities to employ managers and to help preserve and sustain Aboriginal culture, arts and crafts. Many large Papunya works were commissioned by the Aboriginal Arts Board during the 1970s as part of its exhibition program in Australia and overseas. This collection was transferred to the National Museum of Australia in 1990.

All works are copyright the artists or their estates and are licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency.