NMA collection record

'Punyurrpungkunya' by Shorty Lungkarta Tjungurrayi, 1977


The central panel of this canvas describes the ancestral deeds of a group of Tingarri Men and their initiates who gathered at Punyurrpungkunya, a soakage west of Kintore near the Western Australia-Northern Territory border. During ceremonial practices, the initiates dug holes to shelter from the heat and used mingkulpa (chewing tobacco) for sustenance. From Punyurrpungkunya the group travelled to the claypan site of Pinarinya in the spinifex-sandhill country around Kaakurutintjinya (Lake MacDonald). The men were accompanied by their wives, who carried coolamons of water and are depicted in the outer panels separated by a motif symbolising the women's hair-string belts. The acrylic painting is by Shorty Lungkarta Tjungurrayi and measures 2,792 mm x 3,495 mm. This resource includes a line diagram illustrating the symbols used in the painting and a map showing sites of significance.

Educational value

Shorty Lungkarta Tjungurrayi (1920-87) was one of the last senior Pintupi men to join the Papunya painting group in the early 1970s. He came from the Pintupi language group and was born at Walukuritji. A Ngangkari (traditional healer), he was renowned for his hunting skills, ceremonial knowledge and dancing.

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.