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Josephine Nangala, Natawalu, 2007:

We saw this helicopter coming, up in the sky. We ran into the trees, frightened because that thing, like a windmill, might cut us up.
Men standing in front of a helicopter.

The survey helicopter at Natawalu

Desert people moved away from their homelands for different reasons and at different times during the 20th century. Not all families followed the drovers or the stock route. And not all people ‘walked’ out of the desert, as the story of ‘Helicopter’ Tjungurrayi reveals.

In 1957 a mining survey party came across a group of people living near Natawalu (Well 40). Some of these people had never seen white men before. None had seen a helicopter. They thought it was a giant wasp or dragonfly, manurrkunnurku.

The survey crew shared food with the family group and encouraged their trust. But they were soon able to help them with more than just food. A 10-year-old boy, Tjungurrayi, was seriously ill and the family asked the white men to fly him north to Balgo mission for medical attention.

According to Tjungurrayi:

I was walking around long time, but I got sick … that’s when that helicopter got me. He came [in a helicopter] and put it down at my father’s camp. He spoke to me not in Kukatja, but in English. I was sitting there puzzled. I spoke to him in Kukatja, ‘Take me to Balgo to the medicine.' They put me on the helicopter right there, me and my mother.

The young boy was flown to Balgo where he recovered. He has been known as ‘Helicopter’ ever since.



Wirlki ('number 7' boomerang), about 1950s

Wirlki ('number 7' boomerang), about 1950s

This wirlki, sometimes referred to as a hooked or ‘number 7’ boomerang due to its shape, was collected by helicopter pilot James Ferguson when he was surveying around Natawalu in 1957. He came upon what seemed to him an abandoned camp, and picked up this boomerang as a souvenir.

He left some bullets at the camp in return. When Helicopter and Brandy Tjungurrayi visited the National Museum of Australia in 2010, they held this wirlki and suggested that it most likely belonged to their leader Ngangu (the older man in the centre of the photo above).



Helicopter Joey Tjungurrayi

born about 1947, Manyjilyjarra, Kukatja, Wangkajungka language groups, Tjungurrayi skin group, Balgo community, Warlayirti Artists

Helicopter was born with blackhead snake Dreaming at Nyakin, south of Jupiter Well. He fell ill near Natawalu (Well 40) in 1957 and was flown by helicopter to Balgo.

He is a respected maparn (traditional healer) and artist. He returned to his Country for the first time in 2000.

My father got [my spirit] from [Nyakin], and my mother too They were just taking me around them Countries, my mother and father. They took me everywhere.

Kamara Brandy Tjungurrayi

born about 1930, Manyjilyjarra, Kukatja language groups, Tjungurrayi skin group, Balgo community, Warlayirti Artists

Father (Alphonse) told me to go back to the bush and get all my families.

Brandy walked to old Balgo mission as a young man, and then returned to the desert to collect his family. In 1958 he brought them to Billiluna station, where he earned his name branding cattle.

Brandy raised his family in Balgo, but moved to Kiwirrkurra in the 1990s to be closer to his Country. Today he lives in Balgo with his daughters and many grandchildren.

Charlie Wallabi (Walapayi) Tjungurrayi

about 1937 to 2009, Manyjilyjarra, Kukatja language groups, Tjungurrayi skin group, Kiwirrkurra community, Papunya Tula Artists

Walapayi was a maparn (traditional healer) who was famous throughout the desert and beyond. As a young man he once ate poisoned meat left by drovers in retaliation for spearing a camel.

He left the desert in 1957 to look for his brother, Helicopter Tjungurrayi, who had been taken to Balgo. Walapayi eventually returned to Kiwirrkurra to be closer to his Country.

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