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“Yimiri is [at] a salt lake. There’s two water in the middle, drinking water. That’s a drinking water for us. You can walk right up to lake in the middle of the salt. It’s fresh and beautiful. You gotta sing out for Yimiri, that’s a snake Country. That’s a special water place. We sing out for water; “Yimiri, I’m coming to visit you, I’m coming for fresh water.”

I grew up around these salt lakes [Percival Lakes] with all the families; Yuwali mob, all together. Too salty to drink, so get fresh water from Yimiri, a yinta (permanent spring) in the lake. When they got sick or sores, mothers would wash them in the salt on hot days to make the kids better.”

 -Ngarga Thelma Judson

Yimiri comprises two soaks situated in the middle of a salt lake in the Percival Lakes area, within Western Australia’s Great Sandy Desert. Around the waterhole the Country is dominated by tuwa (sand hills), depicted here with lines and sections of colour. This painting depicts Yimiri, a very important site for yinta. Yimiri is the larger of two soaks in the middle of a big salt warla (lake). When visiting this site to drink water, the plants and warta (trees, vegetation) growing in the kapi (water) are cleaned out as a way of maintaining the site.

During the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) days, Ngarga and her family travelled extensively through this county, their ngurra (home Country, camp). Her family moved up and down through this Country between water sources. When it was raining, they would build a wuungku (shelter) where they could sleep and stay warm beside a waru (fire). When they camped in a particular location for a period the elders would go hunting, leaving the children behind. Ngarga fondly recalls playing around in the tuwa (sandhills) in this region, catching parla-parla (type of lizard).

Yimiri is home to an ancestral jila (snake). The Western Desert term jila is used interchangeably to describe springs considered to be ‘living’ waters and snakes, both of which play a central role in Martu culture and Jukurrpa (Dreaming). During the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) period, knowledge of water sources was critical for survival, and today Martu Country is still defined in terms of the location of water sources. Of the many permanent springs in Martu Country, very few are ‘living waters’; waters inhabited by jila. Before they became snakes, these beings were men who made rain, formed the land and introduced cultural practices like ceremonies and ritual songs. Some of the men travelled the desert together, visiting one another, but they all ended their journeys at their chosen spring alone, transformed into a snake. These important springs are named after their jila inhabitant, guarding their waters.

The region surrounding Yimiri was formed by Wirnpa, one of the most powerful of the ancestral jila (snake) men and the last to travel the desert during the Jukurrpa. Wirnpa is a rainmaking jila who lived and hunted in the Percival Lakes area. His travels are described in the songs and stories of many language groups across the Western Desert, even those far removed from his home site. In his epic travels, Wirnpa met and feasted with many other ancestral beings, exchanged ceremonial objects, and created a series of different laws and ceremonies. When he finally returned home, he searched for his many children only to discover that they had already died. They had laid down and become the salt springs of the Percival Lakes. Wirnpa wept for his children before himself transforming into a snake and entering the soak where he still resides.

Name: Thelma Dundan Ngarga Judson

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Parnngurr


“I grew up around these salt lakes [Percival Lakes] with all the families; [my sister] Yuwali’s mob, all together. Too salty to drink, so [we would] get fresh water from Yimiri, a yinta (permanent spring) in the lake." 

- Ngarga Thelma Judson


Ngarga is a Manyjilyjarra woman, born in the isolated Percival Lakes region of the Great Sandy Desert in the mid 1950s. She grew up primarily around Yimiri and Kurturarra soaks. She and her young siblings would stay close to the major water sources while their parents went out hunting. During the rainy season her extended family group would separate into smaller units, and when it was hot they would come back together at the permanent water source of Yimiri.

As a young girl Ngarga lived nomadically in this region with her family group, composed unusually of only female adults and children; the men that had been travelling with the group had either died or moved away. While most Martu had by this time either moved in to pastoral stations or missions, or at the very least encountered whitefellas as they travelled along the Canning Stock Route, the extremely remote location of Ngarga’s group had prevented such interactions. Their first contact with Europeans occurred in 1964, when the government sought to clear all remainng pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) Aboriginals from an extremely large area destined for military weapons testing. At that time they were tracked with vehicles and an aeroplane. Once sighted prior to the testing operation, her family group was dramatically pursued for several weeks by Native Patrol Officer Walter McDowell for many weeks. This extraordinary story has since been documented in the award winning book, ‘Cleared Out: First Contact in the Western Desert’ (Co-authored with Sue Davenport and Peter Johnson, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2005) and film, ‘Contact’ (2009, Contact Films). 

Once the group was finally tracked, they were persuaded to move to Jigalong Mission to join family there. They were one of the last families to move in from the desert. Ngarga schooled at the mission, then moved to newley Aboriginal owned Strelley community. She later returned to Jigalong, where she met her husband and fellow Martumili Artist, Yanjimi Peter Rowlands. Together they remained in Jigalong for a time, raising their children until they were school aged. The family relocated to Parnngurr Aboriginal Community during the 1980s ‘Return to Country’ movement. Today Ngarga and Yanjimi live between Newman, Port Hedland, and Parrngurr.

Ngarga is a talented weaver and painter. Her works depict her ngurra (home Country, camp), the Percival Lakes region, and its associated Jukurrpa (Dreaming). The area is dominated by a series of striking salt lakes, extending across a distance of 350km, and was formed by Wirnpa, one of the most powerful of the ancestral jila (snake) men and the last to travel the desert during the Jukurrpa. Ngarga’s work has been exhibited widely across Australia and internationally, and her collaborative works acquired by the National Museum of Australia.

© the artist / art centre