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Warakurna history paintings

WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

At a glance

  • Western Desert Warakurna community
  • Ngaanyatjarra lands
  • 33 works from artists including Jean Burke, Judith Yinyika Chambers, Eunice Yunurupa Porter and Ken Shepherd
Image of an acrylic painting on canvas showing a person leading two camels, against a predominantely yellow background, with trees and large rocks in the background. A small animal runs alongside the person.
The Camel Lady by Jean Burke, acrylic on canvas, 762 x 1016 mm. Courtesy: Warakurna Artists.

A Western Desert community history

The Warakurna history painting collection documents stories from everyday life and historical events considered important by local Indigenous artists at Warakurna, about 330 kilometres west of Uluru.

The 33 paintings in the collection were originally produced by the Warakurna Artists for the exhibition History Paintings — All the Stories Got into Our Minds and Eyes, held at the Outstation Gallery in Darwin in 2011. The paintings also engage with broader themes and characters in Australia history. The explorer and prospector Harold Lasseter and adventurer Robyn Davidson are notable examples of iconic Australians who feature in the public imaginary that swirls around the Australian desert. In the Warakurna paintings, Ngaanyatjarra artists provide their own take on these important historical figures.

Art collectors Wayne and Vicki McGeoch felt the works deserved national recognition. They bought the entire collection and donated it to the National Museum through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.

The entire collection will feature in an exhibition opening at the National Museum in Canberra in December 2012.

Aboriginal contact with outsiders

The subjects of the Warakurna paintings range from encounters with explorers and road-builders to weapons testing and native title.

Some portray particular events, such as writer Robyn Davidson's trek through the community in the 1970s, a Midnight Oil concert at Warakurna in 1987, and the opening of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where a group of Warakurna women performed.

Each of the paintings documents the history of Aboriginal contact with outsiders, and registers an important shift in Western Desert art.

The use of acrylic paintings to illustrate oral histories is a recent development in Western Desert art practice. Local Indigenous artists are well-known for their sacred Dreaming imagery, inspired by ritual and religious knowledge. In contrast, these Warakurna paintings reflect more recent history and the Warakurna people's desire to tell their own stories in their own way.

The Camel Lady by Jean Burke

Artist Jean Burke contributed several works to collection, including The Camel Lady. In this work Burke remembers Robyn Davidson, a writer who captured international attention in the late 1970s when she travelled with her camels for more than 2600 kilometres across the deserts of western Australia.

Burke's father, Mr Eddie, trekked with Davidson through the Ngaanyatjarra lands, showing her the water sources along the way. In 2011 Jean Burke said:

She was a good woman. She had a dream about a kind man who would help her find her way, then she met my father ... He knew that country and he helped her ... when she wrote her book, Tracks, my father was in there.

The Camel Lady was recently on show in the National Museum's new acquisitions case, outside the Circa theatre. It will go on show again with the other works from Warakurna history paintings collection in the Museum's First Australians Focus Gallery in December 2012.