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Meet our desert people

Meet our desert people

As part of the development and promotion of Extremes, the Museum invited three desert people, from each of the three continents featured in the exhibition, to Canberra. In a series of interviews, they have shared their stories of life in these dry and difficult lands. Find out more about each of our friends below.

Rudolf Dausab, southern Africa

Rudolf Dausab

Photos: Dragi Markovic

Rudolf is a spokesperson and representative of the Topnaar community in the Kuiseb Delta, near Walvis Bay, Namibia, Africa. He speaks a local 'click' language as well as Afrikaans and English. Rudolf is a strong advocate for the Topnaar, who herd cattle and goats and harvest bush foods along the 'green line' formed by the Kuiseb River as it winds through the desolate Namib desert. 'Topnaar' is an Afrikaans version of 'Aonin', and means 'people at the extremity'.

Rudolf describes his community as one of the most remote in the world. Paradoxically, the declaration of much of the Namib Desert as a park in the 1960s caused problems for his people, who could no longer practise their traditional skills of hunting or gathering veld plants for food and medicine. Since independence, the Topnaar community has worked with the government on changing the regulations governing the activities of people who live in parks. Rudolf is also co-author of a recent book on the desert !nara melon, one of the most important bush foods in the Namib. In the words of a traditional song, he calls the melon 'the foster mother of the Topnaar children', as it has provided a livelihood for the Topnaar for generations.

Douglas Multa, Central Australia

Doulgas Multa

Photo: Karina West, National Museum of Australia

Douglas Multa Tjupurrula is a senior Luritja man from Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) in western Central Australia. His country is the desert spinifex and sandhill country west of the MacDonnell Ranges. Douglas is descended from some of the last people to live at Puritjarra rock-shelter which is a key archaeological site featured in Extremes. Active on the pastoral frontier in the 1890s, the Multas were notorious for cattle-spearing, but later worked as stockmen. His grandfather was one of the cattle-bosses at Haasts Bluff in the 1940s and travelled the country with camels in the 1940s and 1950s before motor cars were widely available to Aboriginal people.

Douglas is related to female Ikuntji artists who today produce the wonderful naïve-realist 'Ikuntji art' that is gaining a strong following in international galleries. In his younger days, Douglas was a back-up guitarist in the Warumpi Band. Now he is a member of a gospel band, while his son is drummer in a band called Sunshine Reggae. Douglas is an active member of the Ikuntji Community Council, dealing with the problems and opportunities of steering Ikuntji into the future.

Rosa Ramos, South America

Rosa Ramos

Photos: Dragi Markovic

Rosa works for one of the tourist hotels in San Pedro de Atacama as an adventure tour guide. Her parents are from local Indian farming clans called ayllus, and she spent time as a child on traditional farms in the San Pedro area, growing maize and traditional tree crops such as algarrobo and chañar. At various times, her family also kept sheep, goats or llamas and family members spent time working for wages in desert towns such as Calama, or in the massive open-cut Chuquicamata copper mine nearby.

Like many young Atacameños, Rosa faces difficult decisions about her future in an area of high unemployment and few prospects. She also expresses concern about the growing number of tourists visiting the Atacama. Although they provide a welcome source of employment, they have also brought other, more unwelcome changes to the Atacameño way of life. However, her strong attachment to the desert comes through in the way she speaks about life in her oasis, the exhilaration that comes from climbing the volcanoes near her home, especially the Licancabur (literally, 'the mountain of the town') and the happiness she finds reflected in the clear, blue skies.