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Jarran Jan Billycan, Broome, 2007:

In living water there is a quiet snake. Sometimes he rises up, but we sing him down. Sometimes he can travel and bring rain.
Colour photograph of a hand dotting yellow paint onto a dark canvas.

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 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.

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