91 x 91 cm: acrylic on canvas
“All around is sandhills and lakes on every side. You can see the grass, but the lakes are all dry. In the middle is Puntawarri waterhole. That’s the jila (snake) place, two jila. They nyupa (spouses), they darlings, man and woman. They sleeping near to Puntawarri. It’s a hole in the ground- that jila will come out of the ground and all the dust will go everywhere. All the dust going everywhere, the dust that flies up when the jila flies up out of its hole. The jila isn’t in that place anymore. It’s gone now but that jila used to stop there.”
– Helen Dale Samson
Puntawarri is an important cultural area located on the middle stretches of the Canning Stock Route and east of the Jigalong Mission (now Jigalong Aboriginal community). It is also the site of an abandoned community, a waterhole, creek and lake. Puntawarri’s close proximity to Jigalong Mission made it a popular site for Martu to visit during the ‘mission days’. Dale was born at Jigalong Mission, and continues to live in the community now located there today. Though she grew up in the dormitory at Jigalong, she spent her weekends and holidays in the bush, camping at sites such as Puntawarri with her extended family. Once married, she lived around Puntawarri, walking and hunting in the surrounding Country.
For many Martu, like Dale’s family, Jigalong Mission was the site where their pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) lifestyle came to an end from the late 1940s as they transitioned to a life as stockmen and women working in cattle stations in the Pilbara region and beyond. In the wake of the extreme and prolonged drought of the 1960s, the last of the remaining pujimanpa (desert dwellers) were forced to move to missions like Jigalong, where a supply of food and water was assured. There, many Martu were reunited with family members that had already moved in from the desert.
The waterhole at Puntawarri is said to be populated by several kinds of ancestral jila, as referred to by Dale in her account. However the site is best known for its association with the Ngayurnangalku, fearsome ancestral cannibal beings. During the Jukurrpa (Dreaming) the Ngayurnangalku came together from all over the desert, first stopping near Puntawarri on their travels to Kumpupirntily (Kumpupintily, Lake Disappointment). At Kumpupirntily, they had a big meeting to debate whether or not they would continue to live as cannibals, and eventually came to the decision to stop eating people. That night, a female baby cannibal was born to the eastern Ngayurnangalku on the red sandhills at Puntawarri, where she continues to live today as the ‘big mummy’ Ngayurnangalku. Following protocol, the baby also had to be consulted by the group. She determined that the Ngayurnangalku should continue to eat people. Her decision divided the group, and from this point the group from the east continued to live as ‘bad’ cannibals at Kumpupirntily, while the group from the west became ‘good’, thereafter consuming only animals.
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Martumili Artists acknowledges the Nyiyaparli and Martu people as the Traditional Owners of the land we live and work on. We also acknowledge the Traditional Owners throughout our country and our Elders; past, present and emerging.