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Tjuupi trail

Honey Ant cartoon

Explore ten art works from the Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert exhibition through our Tjuupi (honey ant) trail. The Papunya artists use different symbols to paint Dreaming stories. These symbols include circles, journey lines and bird and animal tracks, and can have many meanings.

View a slideshow of the artworks

All works are copyright the artists or their estates and are licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency 2007. They must not be reproduced in any form without permission. The line diagrams were designed by Sarah Drury and Lisa Willett of Thylacine Design.

Flying Dingoes, 1974 (Mick Namararri Tjapaltjarri)

Flying Dingoes painting and line diagram

This painting depicts a land-forming event during the travels of ancestral Dingo Men in the Dreaming. The design has been superimposed on a 'map' of the escarpment where the dingo became a landform. The central series of motifs reveal the dingo's body, with tracks on either side representing its paw marks. The dingo's long ears, depicted as elongated arcs on either side of the concentric circles, enabled it to fly.

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Dreaming of Matjadji, 1975 (David Corby Tjapaltjarri)

Dreaming of Matjadji painting and line diagram

This painting depicts a men's Dreaming that passed through a waterhole site called Matjatji before continuing to Kunatjarri. The ceremony at Matjatji involved young initiates receiving instruction from an elder, represented by the U shape, with the sinuous line indicating the track followed by the initiates during the ceremony. The arc shapes, which are the body paint symbols applied to the participants' legs, are further reflected in the ground pattern.

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Courting with a Nosepeg, 1974 (Kaapa Tjampitjinpa)

Courting with a nosepeg painting and line diagram

This painting depicts a yilpinytji (love magic) story. The central area represents the women's camp, which is surrounded by women's objects including woven head-pieces for attracting men. The men approach the camp very carefully, decorated with ceremonial marrapinti (nosepegs), which are worn through the pierced septem. Spinning of human hair, painting special designs on the skin and wearing marrapinti are ways for a man to attract a woman. Male head-pads indicate that the men are prepared to perform their share of domestic carrying.

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Wanatjalnga, 1974 (Charlie Tjaruru Tarawa Tjungurrayi)

Wanatjalnga painting

During the Dreaming a woman called Walinngi travelled alone toward the Gordon Hills in Western Australia from far to the west. In the claypan and hill country near Wanatjalnga, she tracked a small bird to its nest, a hole in the ground into which it disappeared. Walinngi made a wana (digging stick), cutting the wood and removing the bark. The discarded bark formed the rocky hill of Wanatjalnga. Walinngi killed and ate the bird, then climbed the hill and saw emus heading towards Pakupurunya. The hole in the ground is now a claypan where water gathers and is named Malpuntarrinya, after the bird.

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Making Spears, 1975 (Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra)


During the Dreaming, a group of ancestral men camped at Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay) and lit a fire to flush out kangaroos. The fire quickly got out of control but posed no threat in this area of sparse vegetation. The background of the painting shows the burnt patches from the nyaru (bushfire). Some distance from the main camp (the main circular shape in the painting) another group of men were making kurlarta (spears) by straightening shafts over a fire. The spears are represented by the lines that radiate from the main camp.

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Mala and the Bad Uncles at Tjikarri [I and II], 1974 (Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula)

Mala Uncles I and II paintings

Tjikarri is associated with a group of ancestral beings who travelled together during the Dreaming. Their story is one Tjupurrula regularly painted, depicting the ancestors through their respective track marks. Matingpilangu, the Dingo Man, was an uncle of the Mala hare wallabies, but he sometimes killed and ate them. Luurnpa, the Kingfisher Man, was also an uncle, but he often drank all their water. The Mala eventually speared Matingpilangu to death, but Luurnpa, who was a doctor-man, brought him back to life.

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Watunuma (Flying Ant Dreaming), 1976 (Kaapa Tjampitjinpa)

Watunuma painting

Warturnuma (the ancestral Flying Ant) was immense, with a long beard and wizened face. He flew just above the treetops, travelling westward through the lands of the Anmatyerr and Warlpiri peoples. At Ngunga, north-west of Alice Springs, he landed for the last time, crawled on his arthritic knees into a cave and died. The double bars represent ant wings, and the concentric circles refer to the ant's resting places and the earthen 'homes' of these insects.

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Travels of the Mala (Hare Wallaby), 1976 (Timmy Jugadai Tjungurrayi)

Travels of the Mala painting and line diagram

On its travels in the Dreaming, the Mala passed through a wide area of Central Australia, including the Indajirri swamp, 400 kilometres west of Alice Springs, and Uluru in the Pitjantjatjarra lands to the south. The painting shows the tracks of this fast-moving wallaby, indicating where it browsed (represented by a dragging tail mark) or made speedy progress. The circles are the tjanpingka (spinifex tussocks) under which it lives, and the arc-shaped protrusions are the Mala's whiskers.

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Dreaming Story at Warlugulong (Warlukurlangu), 1976 (Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri)

Dreaming Story at Warlugulong painting

This strikingly original painting depicts the Warlukurlangu or Bushfire Dreaming. Warlukurlangu, the place west of Yuendumu where the fire began, is indicated by the concentric circles at the centre of the glowing fire-burst, which conveys the explosive nature of the fire. The charcoal grey areas indicate the burnt-out country, and the white dots represent ash.

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Storm Camps on the Rain Dreaming Trail, 1978 (Kaapa Tjampitjinpa)

Storm camps painting and line diagram

Walapurnpa is one of many sites on the Rain Dreaming trail that commences at Kalipinypa, the site of a massive thunderstorm. The three dark circles in the painting are the camps of the keeper-owners of Walapurnpa: two Tjampitjinpa men and a Tjangala man. Lightning and slashing hail are represented by the sinuous lines. The fine white and black dots are cloud masses rolling into the blackness of the storm centre, and the fine black lines represent the water that flowed over the entire country. The larger dots indicate stony outcrops around the site.

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Perentie (Lizard), 1980 (Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri)

Perentie (Lizard) 1980 made by Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri.

Before the painting movement began in Papunya during the early 1970s, artists such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri and Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri had established reputations as carvers of realistic snakes and lizards. This intricately carved perentie lizard shows Tjapaltjarri's extraordinary woodworking skills.

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