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From humpies to houses

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.


From humpies to houses

A black and white photo of a Warlpiri shelter with huts in the background.
Yujuku (Warlpiri shelter), with prefabricated Kingstrand huts in the background, Hooker Creek 1953–54. Photo: Mervyn Meggitt. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 0390.131.

The malaka's house

The house of the malaka, or superintendent, was the most substantial structure standing at Hooker Creek in 1953, symbolising the power of the government official over his Warlpiri wards. Warlpiri were put to work to construct the new buildings of the settlement, including the first generation of prefabricated metal huts, known as ‘Kingstrands’. Senior people describe these huts as ‘toy houses’, ‘rubbish houses’, and ‘hot little houses’ that blew over in high winds.

The movement from humpies to houses marked a profound transformation in Warlpiri ways of living. One of the ways Warlpiri saw their difference from Europeans was that Warlpiri lived at ground level, while the newcomers lived in structures raised above it. These drawings provide a glimpse of how Warlpiri people saw these new structures as they were coming to terms with their life at the settlement.

One evening in 1953 Larry Jungarrayi visited Mervyn Meggitt and gave him a drawing (below). Handing over the sheet of card Jungarrayi asked Meggitt if he knew what the drawing was. Meggitt eyed the picture and shook his head. As recalled by Meggitt’s widow, Joan, Jungarrayi looked at Meggitt as if he were a fool. ‘What is it?’ asked Meggitt. ‘It’s the malaka’s house!’ declared Jungarrayi.

Two girls standing in front of the superintendent's house, Hooker Creek 1953-54.
'The malaka's (superintendent's) house', 1953-54, by Larry Jungarrayi, Hooker Creek.

Above: 'The malaka's (superintendent's) house', 1953-54, by Larry Jungarrayi, Hooker Creek. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.


Left: Two girls standing in front of the superintendent's house, Hooker Creek, 1953-54. Photo: Mervyn Meggitt. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, N0390.354.

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