In living water there is a quiet snake. Sometimes he rises up, but we sing him down. Sometimes he can travel and bring rain.
Jarran Jan Billycan, Broome, 2007
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Mayapu Elsie Thomas paints Kurrkumalu. Photo: Tim Acker, 2007.
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 northern end of the Canning Stock Route crosses the Great Sandy Desert. Here springs are considered 'living' waters and are known as jila. Some are inhabited by powerful ancestral beings. Many of these jila are linked by Dreaming tracks that connect the Countries of Martu, Yulparija, Juwaliny, Mangala, Wangkajunga and Walmajarri people. The ancestral stories of these sites are recorded in the songs and dances that cross the desert, uniting peoples through shared ceremonies and law.
A number of these jila, including Kukapanyu (Well 39), Kulyayi (Well 42), Katajilkarr (Well 43) and Kaningarra (Well 48), became wells on the Canning Stock Route.
Jan Billycan, Yulparija Artists, acrylic on linen, 79.5 x 59.5 cm
This is the birthplace of my father's clan. The people in our clan are also called Kiriwirri.
Kiriwirri jila lies within the Percival Lakes, or warla Country, a chain of salt lakes that runs for hundreds of kilometres across the desert, intersecting the stock route near Well 39.
Kiriwirri is home to people from many language groups, including Yulparija, Wangkajunga, Manyjilyjarra, Nyangumarta, Mangala and Juwaliny speakers.
Jan Billycan, Yulparija Artists, acrylic on linen, 106.6 x 76.6 cm
Kiriwirri, round one jila. Living water. I born Kiriwirri. All brother and sister born Kiriwirri.
This painting represents the tali (sandhills), jila (waters) and warla (salt lakes) in the Country surrounding the artist's birthplace.
Kiriwirri, that's the Country. Everybody for that one. Kirriwirri. One place for all of us.
Jawarta Donald Moko, Bidyadanga, 2007
Nada Rawlins, Ngurra Artists, acrylic on paper, 96.8 x 149 cm
This is my Country, Kiriwirri. There is a big dry salty lake; we call it warla. It gets really full during the wet season. I walked through that Country when I was a little girl with my family. You can't walk barefoot across the [dry] salt lakes because the salt will burn your feet. You have to wear yakapiri, bush sandshoes.
Taku Rosie Tarco, Mangkaja Arts, acrylic on canvas, 119 x 89 cm
Too much jilji [sandhills] in our Country. Up and down, up and down. Kartiya [white people] get sick of it.
The Canning Stock Route runs through hundreds of kilometres of rugged sandhill country. The long, reverberating lines in this painting represent the high red sandhills, or jilji, that dominate much of the Great Sandy Desert.
Everyone was leaving the Country then. We came out of the desert at old Billiluna. We came this way, through the Canning Stock Route. People cried when they sat with me because I was so skinny. I had no mother to look after me, poor thing. And now look at me. I'm the fattest one!
Donald Moko, Yulparija Artists, acrylic on canvas, 118.5 x 106.5 cm
The story of Nyilangkurr links the southern and northern areas of stock route Country.
In this painting, Kunawarritji (Well 33) (the red cross in the top right corner) lies at the northern end of a long chain of jila, and Nyilangkurr, an important men's ceremonial site near Well 25, lies at the other. After conducting their ceremonies at Nyilangkurr, men would travel north to continue their ceremonies at the jila in Wangkajunga Country. Yalta, the birthplace of Rover Thomas, lies in the sandhills (the red and blue stripes) near Kunawarritji.