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Punmu refers to a region and an Aboriginal community within its vicinity, located 670km North-East of Newman. Created during the return to Country movement of the 1980s, with the recognition of Martu land rights and native title, the community was named after a nearby Jukurrpa (Dreaming) story.

Punmu Aboriginal community sits on the edge of a large salt lake known as Nyayartakujarra, or Lake Dora. The lake runs south into Karlamilyi River (Rudall River). Surrounding Punmu are numerous fresh water soaks and the red tali (sandhills) typical of the area. The most frequently visited yinta (permanent springs) around Punmu include Wirlarra, Rawa, Yilyara, Jila-jila and Tuu-tuu.

The Country around Punmu features in several Jukurrpa stories. Of particular importance is the story of the Jila Kujarra (Two Snakes), one of the key Jukurrpa narratives for the Martu. Though the story belongs to Warnman people, it is shared across the Western Desert with several other language groups. The narrative centres on the travels of two snakes as they are pursued by the Niminjarra, spiritual ancestors of the Warnman people. 

Before transforming themselves into snakes, the Jila Kujarra were young brothers. As snakes, they began travelling home to their mother, but were intercepted by the Niminjarra, who tracked the Jila Kujarra to Paji, east of Nyayartakujarra (Lake Dora). Though the Jila Kujarra eluded their pursuers here by escaping under the lake at Paji, they were soon after speared and injured by two Pukurti (initiates with bundled hair) at Nyayartakujarra, who returned with the Niminjarra to cook the snakes at the site of Kumpupirntily (Kumpupintily, Lake Disappointment). As the Niminjarra cut down the length of the Jila Kujarra, the snake’s bladders were pierced, causing an explosion of scalding hot urine in which the Niminjarra all perished and became black rocks at the site. The spirits of the Jila Kujarra returned to their mother at Nyayartakujarra, where the mother and her sons entered the ground below Nyayartakujarra and remain to this day.

Name: May Manyjirr Brooks

Language: Kartujarra


Manyjirr is a Manyjilyjarra woman, born at Jigalong Mission in 1952 and primarily raised by the missionaries there. She is the sister of Sarah Brooks (dec.) and fellow Martumili Artist Clifford Brooks. Her father’s brother was the critically acclaimed artist, Rover Thomas. 

Manyjirr schooled at the mission from between the ages of six and sixteen, until she was given away in a traditional manner to her then husband, with whom she was married for many years. Together they had three children. From Jigalong, Manyjirr went to work at Mundawindi (Muntawinti) cattle station and then Ethel Creek Station before moving to Fortescue River, at the outskirts of Newman town. When Manyjirr and her husband later returned to Jigalong he became the community’s chairman for a time. Today she lives with her family between Newman and Punmu Aboriginal community. 

Manyjirr was one of Martumili’s pioneering artists. She paints her parents’ and her own ngurra (home Country, camp); the Country surrounding Raarki (Canning Stock Route Well 27), Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 33), Punmu and Parnpajinya. 

© the artist / art centre