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The artworks

The artworks

You paint it because you know everything. You know because as a child you walked around in the Country and with your parents and grandparents drank from those rock holes and later were taught the names of the rock holes and their stories. They taught us their knowledge so that we could survive on our own after they had passed on.

Ngumarnu Norma Giles, Warburton, 2008

The Canning Stock Route collection

Curators with the collection

Below are links to the extensive collection of works that is now known as the Canning Stock Route collection, and a selection of related works that were borrowed or acquired for the exhibition Yiwarra Kuju.

Rather than imposing a stylistic or chronological order on the works, they are grouped here largely according to the stories that they tell: stories of family and Country, Jukurrpa, survival and resilience.

They don't tell the history of the Canning Stock Route, but the story of the Country the road cut across.

Measurements are given as height x width (paintings) or length x width x height (objects). All artworks are from the collection of the National Museum of Australia, unless otherwise acknowledged.


Helen Hill, between wells 27 and 28 on the Canning Stock Route.

Ngurra, which means both 'Country' and 'home' in Western Desert languages, is integral to understanding the culture and values of desert people. It can refer to a bush shelter, to vast tracts of land, or even to a modern house in a community.



Kurtal dancers perform at Ngumpan.

The Jukurrpa is sometimes translated as the 'Dreaming' or 'Dreamtime' and exists in desert law as the creation period. During the Jukurrpa, ancestral beings in both human and animal form moved across the desert singing, marrying and fighting - or tricking and helping one another.



Minyipuru Jukurrpa: The Seven Sisters' story

Minyipuru (Seven Sisters), by Muni Rita Simpson, Rosie Williams and Dulcie Gibbs, laid out on the ground at Kilykily (Well 36), where it was painted in 2007.

In Aboriginal cultures across Australia, and in other cultures around the world, the Pleiades star cluster is associated with the story of the Seven Sisters. Minyipuru Jukurrpa is the Martu version of this story.


Kumpupirntily: Lake Disappointment

Kumpupirntily (Lake Disappointment).

The power of the Jukurrpa, and of the ancestral beings whose actions shaped the world, remains present in the land. These ancestral beings, who often transformed into the landscapes they created, can also affect living people and events.



Jackie Giles from Kayili Artists.

The Canning Stock Route story revolves around water. To colonists, desert water was a commercial resource necessary for a successful stock route. To the people of the desert, these waters were the social, spiritual and economic bases of their existence.


Well 33 to Well 35: The heart of Canning Stock Route country

Nora Wompi, Bugai Whylouter, Kumpaya Girgaba and Nora Nangapa at Kunkun near Well 33.

Kunawarritji (Well 33) features in many of the Jukurrpa stories from the desert. It became one of the main places from which people left the desert, eventually settling in communities as distant as Turkey Creek, Wiluna, Jigalong, Balgo and Bidyadanga.


Ngurra kuju walyja

Warlayirti artist Eubena (Yupinya) Nampitjin with her granddaughter at Balgo.

Walyja means 'family', but in a much wider sense than many non-Aboriginal people may be familiar with. In the Country crossed by the stock route, the experience of kinship and family is shaped by the desert's harsh environment, which required extensive travel and cooperation between distant groups.


Rover's legacy

Rover Thomas.

Rover Thomas is one of Australia's most important artists. One of the first two Indigenous artists to represent Australia at the 1990 Venice Biennale, his paintings sparked a greater appreciation of Aboriginal art, both nationally and internationally.


The last of the Cannings

Georgina standing with her mother, Naomi 1976.

Dadina Georgina Brown was just six years old when she came in from the desert. When she was found, she was clutching an armful of dingo pups.


Jila Country

Mayapu Elsie Thomas paints Kurrkumalu.

Water was not only critical to desert people's physical survival, it was also central to their ceremonial practices and spiritual beliefs. The location of water sources defines Aboriginal people's Country.


The jila men

Charlie Wallabi (Walapayi) Tjungurrayi at Kaningarra (Well 48).

Of the 200 permanent springs in the jila Country, only about 30 are inhabited by the powerful ancestral beings known as jila or kalpurtu (rainbow serpents). Two of these springs, Kulyayi (Well 42) and Kaningarra (Well 48), became stock route wells.


Paruku and Tjurabalan

Kilangkilang, one of the lakes in the Paruku system.

Before white settlement, the Paruku (Lake Gregory) and Tjurabalan (Sturt Creek) regions were centres of activity both for ancestral beings and for river, lake and desert people.


Droving time

Head stockman by Axel Poignant, 1942. Gelatin silver photograph.

The Canning Stock Route is the world's longest historic stock route, and it was reputedly Australia's most difficult.


Natawalu: The helicopter story

Men with helicopter at Natawalu, with Warlayirti artist Kamara Brandy Tjungurrayi ('That's me, the good looking one') second from right.

The people of the Western Desert moved across their land in a rhythm determined by the seasons and by their social and ceremonial duties. The coming of the drovers, however, introduced different kinds of movement and different reasons to move.


The moving desert

Parnngurr community seen from Parnngurr hill.

Throughout the twentieth century, social, cross-cultural and ecological pressures have pulled Aboriginal people from their homelands and pushed them into the settlements that fringed the desert.


Other roads

Martu women and children at Parnngurr rock hole Martumili artists Ngamaru Bidu (back row, third from left, with arms crossed), Bugai Whylouter (centre) and Jakayu Biljabu (far right) are represented in the Canning Stock Route collection.

The Talawana track, which intersects the Canning Stock Route between wells 22 and 23, was surveyed and built by Len Beadell as part of a missile-testing project undertaken by the Commonwealth's Weapons Research Establishment (Woomera) in the early 1960s.


Creating culture

Martumili artists Jartarr Lily Long and Yuwali Janice Nixon at Kunkun near Well 33.

Acrylic paintings are only one part of the Canning Stock Route collection, and one of the most recent expressions of desert people's innovative traditions. Indeed, the National Museum of Australia's recent acquisition of art and material culture is not even the first 'Canning Stock Route collection'.


Majarrka juju

A Majarrka dancer at Ngumpan.

Majarrka juju (song and dance) describes the true story of Wurtuwaya (Yanpiyarti Ned Cox's grandfather) and Wirrali (Mayarn Julia Lawford's grandfather).


The art of Country: Stories still being told

Martumili artist Nora Wompi and grandson at Kunawarritji (Well 33).

The Canning Stock Route is many things in one: a path through the desert, a place where many different people came together, a region with a history that crosses cultures.