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Seeing beauty in the desert

She really loved yapa [Warlpiri]. She was the first one who fought for land rights.

Neville Japangardi Poulson, 2011

A black and white photo of Olive Pink riding a camel.
Olive Pink, Central Australia, about 1934. University of Tasmania.

Olive Pink and Warlpiri in the 1930s

Between the 1920s and 1940s, Warlpiri experienced sustained brutality, starvation and sickness as pastoralism and mining expanded across their country. White settlers restricted Warlpiri access to their hunting grounds and water sources and lured people to work for them, often in miserable conditions for meagre return. During this time, Warlpiri enjoyed the fearless support of anthropologist and botanist Olive Pink. As Neville Japangardi Poulson recalled, ‘This woman, Talkinjiya, turned up everywhere we had a problem’.

When Pink travelled into the Tanami Desert, Warlpiri families offered her hospitality. She loved the arid environment and made many drawings and paintings of desert flora. Pink collected a small number of drawings from her Warlpiri hosts at a place called Yunmaji in 1933 and 1934. Her own hand-drawn poster reveals that Pink valued these drawings highly and was hoping to exhibit them in her home town of Hobart.

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