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Nyurnma (Freshly Burnt Country) near Punmu (2018)

Nyurnma (freshly burnt Country), burnt area north from Punmu [in]sandhill Country.

One big one, no yukuri (green grass, vegetation) left. Last year [2018], no rain yet. Big area. From lighting did it, it started that waru (fire). It kept burning from the westerly wind turning it kakarra (east) [moves hands around gesturing the fire moving around]. That burning was moving around. No rocks, only tuwa (sandhills) tuwa, tuwa and waru (fire).

I went up in the helicopter from Punmu and saw that Country. That time the waru finished. The country was clear- good for hunting, you can easily see the tracks. Plenty parnajarrpa (sand goanna) there, big one. Nyurnma only. It was a no good feeling- really big one, out of control [The fire was burning a large area of Country and became out of control].

Long time ago in pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) times same way- big fires would start from lighting. Here is the red dirt, marked little bit like the colours left after a camp fire, but from lighting here now.”

– Wokka Taylor

This work depicts Country around Punmu following a large and uncontrolled fire that resulted from a lightning storm in 2018. This type of fire differs to the controlled fire burning as it continues to be practiced through the Martu homelands. Over thousands of years, as Martu travelled and hunted on foot they would burn tracts of land, using waru as a means to assist with hunting, to encourage regenerative growth, and to increase biodiversity.

Targeted waru is an important tool in animal tracking. Small burns are lit to clear vegetation, expose burrows, and to allow for access to walk and track readily in exposed sands. Fires are typically burnt during cooler weather in small, controlled areas, reducing the risk of unmanageable, spontaneous bush fires like that depicted in this work. Remaining is a defined mosaic fire scar pattern in the land, across tali (sand dunes), linyji (claypans), parulyukurru (spinifex country) and pila (sandy plains).

Name: Wokka Taylor

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Parnngurr


Wokka was born in the late 1940s at Kaljali waterhole in the Kulyakartu area; flat, grass Country in the far north of the Martu homelands and close to the Percival Lakes region. He is the middle brother to fellow Martumili Artists Muuki Taylor and Ngalangka Nola Taylor. Both Muuki and Wokka are highly regarded cultural leaders, and Ngalangka a skilled translator and cultural advisor. 

In his youth Wokka’s family seasonally travelled between the Kulyakartu and Percival Lakes regions depending on the availability of water and the corresponding cycles of plant and animal life on which hunting and gathering bush tucker was reliant. Generally they lived in Kulyakartu during the wet season, when its' claypans filled with rain, and the Percival Lakes during the dry season, when they could rely on the area’s many permanent soaks. They continued to live a pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) lifestyle until being collected from Balfour Downs Station and taken to Jigalong Mission in the 1960s. They were one of the last Martu families to leave the desert. 

At Jigalong Wokka married Kanu (Karnu) Nancy Taylor (dec.); the pair were inseparable through to her passing in 2019. From Jigalong the couple lived and worked together on several cattle stations throughout the Pilbara. Eventually they relocated with their family to Parnngurr Aboriginal community as foundational community members during the ‘Return to Country’ movement of the 1980’s. Wokka continues to live in Parnngurr today.

Wokka paints his ngurra (home Country, camp), the Country he walked as a young man; its animals, plants, waterholes and associated Jukurrpa (Dreaming) narratives. His work has been exhibited widely across Australia.

© the artist / art centre