Acrylic on Canvas Painting by Debra Thomas of Martumilli Art Centre
Painting: 36 x 46 cm: acrylic on canvas
Artist: Debra Thomas
“We went to Kunawarritji. We went out to see the waterholes with Kumpaya [Girgirba], my aunty – my dad’s sister. It was the first time I went in a chopper to see the waterholes. Kumpaya take me to show me the waterholes, show me my father’s Country. It was good. I went first to see the waterholes and then I start painting. The waterholes are in my father’s Country. We go out there sometimes, but now I’m doing a lot of painting there in Punmu. I was learning to make a painting now, with the old people. But they all passed away now. And they told me, ‘you can do your own Country, your dad’s Country’. And I made a couple of paintings of my father’s Country. They were telling me, ‘just do your father’s Country, Kunawarritji’.”
- Debra Thomas
Kunawarritji is an important site in the Great Sandy Desert where multiple stories and histories intersect. Originally a spring water and major Martu pujiman (traditional, desert-dwelling) camping site, at the turn of the 20th century Kunawarritji was
converted into a well along the Canning Stock Route. Each year throughout the 1930-50s, the well became a site of contact between the drovers, their cattle, and desert families.
Long before colonial history entered this Country, however, other stories dominated the site. Primarily, Kunawarritji features in the Minyipuru (Jakulyukulyu, Seven Sisters Jukurrpa (Dreaming). Minyipuru is a central Jukurrpa narrative for Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara, and Yankunytjatjara people that is associated with the seasonal Pleiades star constellation.
Beginning in Roebourne on the west coast of Western Australia, the story morphs in its movement eastward across the land, following a group of women as they walk, dance, and even fly from waterhole to waterhole. As they traveled the women left
markers in the landscape and create landforms that remain to this day. During the entirety of their journey, the women are pursued by a lustful old man, Yurla, although interactions with other animals, groups of men, and spirit beings are also chronicled in the narrative.