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Warla (Lake)

This work depicts a warla (lake) within the artists’ ngurra (home Country, camp), typically represented with circular forms. As a reliable source of water in the often harsh and arid Martu lands, warla represented important sites not only for camping throughout the year, but also in terms of their creation as described through Jukurrpa (dreaming) narratives.

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 and type of water. Each of the hundreds of claypans, rockholes, waterholes, soaks and springs found in the Martu desert homelands is known through real life experience and the recounting of Jukurrpa narratives by name, location, quality and seasonal availability. This encyclopedic knowledge extends even to the nature and movement of arterial waterways, and 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.

Name: May Mayiwalku (May Wokka) Chapman

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Warralong


Mayiwalku May Chapman is the eldest sister of fellow Martumili Artists Nancy Nyanjilpayi (Ngarnjapayi) Chapman, Mulyatingki Marney and Marjorie Yates (dec.). Her mother was Warnman and her father was Manyjilyjarra. Mayiwalku was born to the East, in Yirnangarri, “where the two footprints lie”. Her family’s Country extends across the Punmu, Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 33) and Karlamilyi (Rudall River) regions. Following the death of both their parents, Mayiwalku and her sisters travelled alone between Punmu and Kunawarritji, occasionally meeting with other family groups. They later walked south into Karlamilyi, where they first saw a plane flying overhead. Petrified, they hid under spinifex grass until the plane had passed.

Following the construction of the Canning Stock Route in 1910, the family increasingly came into contact with Europeans and Martu working as cattle drovers along the route. Gradually men from Mayiwalku’s family began to work seasonally at stations around Jigalong, but as a family group they remained living in the desert long after most Martu had moved to Jigalong Mission. Finally, in 1966, following a prolonged and severe drought, Mayiwalku and her sisters made the decision to walk to Balfour Downs, where they were collected by Jigalong Mission staff.

Mayiwalku lived for many years at Jigalong Mission before eventually relocating with her five children to Warralong, a community south east of Port Hedland. She continues to live in Warralong today with her daughter and equally renowned artist, Doreen Chapman. Mayiwalku was one of Martumili’s pioneering artists, and is highly regarded for her technically sophisticated works. Her paintings depict her ngurra (home Country, camp); the Country she walked as a young woman, its animals, plants, waterholes and associated Jukurrpa (Dreaming) narratives. Mayiwalku’s work has been exhibited widely across Australia and internationally, and acquired by the National Museum of Australia.

© the artist / art centre