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This is Pinyirr’s Country- her ‘ngurra’ (home Country, camp). People identify with their ngurra in terms of specific rights and responsibilities, and the possession of intimate knowledge of the physical and cultural properties of one’s Country. Painting ngurra, and in so doing sharing the Jukurrpa (Dreaming) stories and physical characteristics of that place, has today become an important means of cultural maintenance. 

Pinyirr’s ngurra encompasses the Country that she and her family walked in the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) era. At this time Pinyirr travelled nomadically with her own and other family groups, most notably the Bidu family. The Country they traversed encompassed an enormous tract of land, with an aerial distance of more than 600 kilometres, from present day Balfour Downs Station to Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 33). Pinyirr was born at Jartuti, a soak and claypan located southeast of Martilirri (Canning Stock Route Well 22). She grew up, walked and hunted primarily around Parnngurr, Punmu, Kun Kun (Kuny-kuny) and Kunawarritji. She continued to live nomadically before eventually deciding to move to Jigalong Mission along with many other relatives following an extreme and prolonged drought in the 1960s. 

Portrayed in this work are features of Pinyirr’s ngurra, such as the striking salt lakes, dominant permanent red tali (sandhills), warta (trees, vegetation), and the individually named water sources Pinyirr and her family camped at. These include Parnngurr, Martilirri, Wangkakalu, Kurta-kurta (Camel Rock), Pimurlu, Jilkupuka (Canning Stock Route Well 21), Kaalpa (Canning Stock Route Well 23), Kartarru (Canning Stock Route Well 24), Wantili (Warntili, Canning Stock Route Well 25), Tiwa (Canning Stock Route Well 26), Partujarrapirri, Raarki (Canning Stock Route Well 27), Wuranu (Canning Stock Route Well 29), Juntu- juntu (Canning Stock Route Well 30), and Kunawarritji. Rock holes, waterholes, soaks and springs were all extremely important sites for Martu people during the pujiman period, and are generally depicted with circular forms. 

The encyclopaedic knowledge of the location, quality and seasonal availability of the hundreds of water bodies found in one’s Country sustained Martu as they travelled across their Country, hunting and gathering, visiting family, and fulfilling ceremonial obligations. They would traverse very large distances annually, visiting specific areas in the dry and wet season depending on the availability of water and the corresponding cycles of plant and animal life on which hunting and gathering bush tucker was reliant. As they travelled and hunted they would also burn areas of Country, generating a greater diversity of plant and animal life.

Name: Nancy Pinyirr (dec) Patterson

Language: Kartujarra

Community: Kunawarritji


Pinyirr was a Kartujarra woman born at Jartuti, a soak and claypan located southeast of Martilirri (Canning Stock Route Well 22). She was the younger sister of highly regarded Martumili Artist, Bugai Whylouter. Together they grew up with their parents and extended family, primarily travelling around the eastern side of the Karlamily (Rudall River) region and along the midsection of the Canning Stock Route, from Kartarru (Canning Stock Route Well 24) to Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 33). 

In 1963 Pinyirr’s family and travelling companions encountered the surveyor Len Beadell, who was then grading roads for the Woomera Missile Testing Range. Shortly afterward the group decided to move to Jigalong Mission. There they joined many other relatives that had already travelled in from the desert following a prolonged and severe drought. Pinyirr attended school at the mission and met her husband there, with whom she later had two daughters and two sons. Together Pinyirr and Bugai raised their children as part of a large, close-knit family unit. 

In later life Pinyirr lived at both Kunawarritji and Punmu Aboriginal communities with her sister Bugai and her only surviving child, Betty Whyoulter. Throughout her painting career Betty was at her side, with Pinyirr passing on stories of her Country. She often worked privately, distancing herself physically from other artists as they painted. Her approach to creating was fierce, energised and without hesitation. Painting her Country made her ‘pukurlpa’ (good inside). Pinyirr’s work has been exhibited widely across Australia and internationally.

© the artist / art centre