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Picturing country, from a distance

Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future

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Picturing country, from a distance

That time the government was doing all that shifting now ... shifting all the Warlpiri people from the Tanami Desert, from the bush.

Jerry Jangala Patrick, 2012

A black and white photo of Mervyn Meggitt with unidentified men at Ngama.
Mervyn Meggitt with unidentified men at Ngama, about 1955. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, N0390.35.

Ancestral journeys through Warlpiri country

In 1946 the settlement of Yuendumu was established for Warlpiri people on the southern edge of the Tanami Desert. In 1952, precipitated by conflict, overcrowding and insufficient water supply, government authorities transported 130 Warlpiri people by truck from Yuendumu to the newly established settlement of Hooker Creek on Gurindji land. Racked by homesickness, some Ngalia (southern Warlpiri) families walked back hundreds of kilometres across the desert to Yuendumu to be close to relatives and their own countries.

View of Hooker Creek Settlement, 1953-54
View of Hooker Creek Settlement, 1953-54. Photo: Mervyn Meggitt. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, N0390.58.

Those who stayed at Hooker Creek pursued a vigorous ceremonial life, to establish order and make themselves at home. It was in this context that the men made drawings for Mervyn Meggitt of their now distant ancestral countries. In the years that followed, more people walked back to Yuendumu but further relocations to Hooker Creek continued into the 1960s. In time, many Warlpiri families came to regard Hooker Creek – known from the late 1970s as ‘Lajamanu’ – as home.

Directed by Warlpiri men

Warlpiri men directed the layout of this part of the exhibition. The drawings track ancestral journeys through Warlpiri country, commencing in the south and concluding in the north. The first eight drawings depict important places and Dreamings associated with the Warlpiri ceremony, Jardiwarnpa.

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