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“When Martu paint, it’s like a map. Martu draw story on the ground and on the canvas, and all the circle and line there are the hunting areas and different waters and tracks where people used to walk, and [some you] can’t cross, like boundaries. So nowadays you see a colourful painting and wonder what it is, but that’s how Martu tell story long ago. It’s not just a lovely painting, it’s a story and a songline and a history and everything that goes with it.” 

– Ngalangka Nola Taylor and Joshua Booth

This work portrays an area of Country that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Firstly, the image may be read as an aerial representation of a particular location known to the artist- either land that they or their family travelled, from the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) era to now. During the pujiman period, Martu would traverse very large distances annually in small family groups, moving seasonally from water source to water source, and hunting and gathering bush tucker as they went. At this time, one’s survival depended on their intimate knowledge of the location of resources; thus physical elements of Country, such as sources of kapi (water), tali (sandhills), different varieties of warta (trees, vegetation), ngarrini (camps), and jina (tracks) are typically recorded with the use of a use of a system of iconographic forms universally shared across the desert. 

An additional layer of meaning in the work relates to more intangible concepts; life cycles based around kalyu (rain, water) and waru (fire) are also often evident. A thousands of year old practice, fire burning continues to be carried out as both an aid for hunting and a means of land management today. As the Martu travelled and hunted they would burn tracts of land, ensuring plant and animal biodiversity and reducing the risk of unmanageable, spontaneous bush fires. The patchwork nature of regrowth is evident in many landscape works, with each of the five distinctive phases of fire burning visually described with respect to the cycle of burning and regrowth.  

Finally, metaphysical information relating to a location may also be recorded; jukurrpa (dreaming) narratives chronicle the creation of physical landmarks, and can be referenced through depictions of ceremonial sites, songlines, and markers left in the land. Very often, however, information relating to jukurrpa is censored by omission, or alternatively painted over with dotted patterns.

Name: Biddy Bunawarrie


“Pujiman [bush-dwelling] people they were walking around with nyimparra(hair belts) – old people. They didn’t know nothing about painting. They were walking around with no clothes. I was a kid, a grown kid, I wore a nyimparra and then when we came to the station we made flour bag clothes to wear. We were wearing flour bag clothing on the stations, shorts and little dress and shirts. All the white ones, white bags.”  

Biddy Bunawarrie was born in the bush on Anna Plains cattle station.She recalls walking vast distances of the Western side of the Pilbara between Port Hedland and the desert, an area she refers to as the ‘plains’ (Nyamal Country, around Marble Bar) for most of her young life. Many of the artists residing in this part of the Pilbara recall being transient and moving around with non-Indigenous activist Don McLeod, prior to his establishment of Strelley Station during the 1970s. Biddy talks about following him after people were liberated from stations. “That old man (Don Mcleod) picked you up and cut the rabbit proof fence so we could get out – Don was fighting for black man. The pussycat was a Tjukurrpa and the white people want to kill it but we said you can kill it for nothing. Then it disappeared – no one knows.” Biddy worked as a domestic on Strelley Station and remembers working most of her young adult life before settling in Warralong Community, between Port Hedland and Marble Bar.  

Today Biddy lives in Warralong with her family. Many of the Warralong artists had been on the periphery of the Martu painting movement, but were inspired to try it after watching senior Martu artist May Wokka Chapman, who is also based in the Community. Biddy has developed her own style that depicts the claypans and salt lakes of her ancestral Country. Shepaints spring country near Nimarinya(Salt) clay pans. A jila[snake] lives there under the lakes. Biddy paints the surface of the snake’s [ngurra] Country.

I like painting – I been see my sister painting in Broome. I love to do them and I thought I’d try. So I thought I’d give it a try. We did the painting Hedland and Broome but finished now I just paint in Warralong. Martu mob been learn us for painting. Susie Gilbert is my sister, she is still painting. I love painting! 

© the artist / art centre