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Painting the Yuendumu doors

Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future

Warning: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Painting the Yuendumu doors

A black and white photo of The painters of the Yuendumu school doors (from left), Paddy Jupurrurla Nelson, Roy Jupurrurla Curtis, Paddy Japaljarri Stewart, Paddy Japaljarri Sims, Larry Jungarrayi Spencer, Yuendumu about 1987.
The painters of the Yuendumu school doors (from left), Paddy Jupurrurla Nelson, Roy Jupurrurla Curtis, Paddy Japaljarri Stewart, Paddy Japaljarri Sims, Larry Jungarrayi Spencer, Yuendumu about 1987. Photo: Jon Rhodes. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Yuendumu, B900.25.
Karntakurlu (About Women) by Larry Jungarrayi Spencer
'Karntakurlu (About Women)', 1984, Yuendumu school door, by Larry Jungarrayi Spencer. South Australian Museum.

Bringing Jukurrpa [Dreamings] to school

By the early 1980s, men and women in the Warlpiri communities of Yuendumu and Lajamanu were picturing their country and their Dreamings in the medium of acrylic paint.

At Yuendumu, in a gesture that symbolised a new era of 'two-way' education – and a practical way of dealing with a growing problem of graffiti – senior men were invited into the school to paint their Dreamings on the doors of the classrooms. Larry Jungarrayi Spencer was one of five men who together undertook this momentous work.

Pictured left is 'Karntakurlu (About Women)', 1984, by Larry Jungarrayi Spencer. The Dreaming painted on this door is described by fellow artist Paddy Japaljarri Stewart in his 1987 book Kuruwarri – Yuendumu Doors:

The Women were painting for ceremonies. They were sitting in a line. These women are Dreamtime Women. One of the Women who danced got up from Kanakurlangu and came from the west. She went ahead while the other women stayed behind. She stopped at Munyuparntiparnti. She kept going from the west to the east. These Women had digging sticks, which are here.

Language at school

Since the early 1970s Warlpiri language has been taught in Warlpiri schools. The Bilingual Resources Development Unit at Yuendumu has produced hundreds of Warlpiri readers, a selection of which are on display in the Warlpiri Drawings exhibition.

Teacher–linguist Wendy Baarda recalls that, from the beginning, Warlpiri people expressed great interest in making books, and suggested plenty of ideas about the format and style in which stories should be told. Drawing has always been a crucial part of Warlpiri language education.

Click on the images below to see books from the Bilingual Resources Development Unit, on show in the exhibition

A group of children sitting at desks in an outdoor area.
Outdoor classroom in the grounds of the Baptist Mission House, Yuendumu, 1950s. Photo: Tom Fleming. Courtesy: Jol Fleming.
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