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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: Heather Samson

Community: Jigalong


“I was born out at Jigalong Mission and grew up in mission with my families. I went to school there right up to year 7. Finished then and worked around the community for a while as a single lady. I worked in the school for a little while then I worked in the clinic for 4 years, I did a lot of things like taking temperatures when people got sick and doing first aid on them as well. Then I went on to meet my partner. We got married and went to live on the station Yalleen near Pannawonica. We were working up and down, Belfer downs and Yalleen. We had kids then, I looked after my oldest sisters daughter and took her as my own and grew her up, then I had my own. Philipa first then Anthony and Caleb and Tanya and I adopted Elton, as they grew old enough to go back to the community  I wanted to take them there they didn’t know any of my families coz they grew up in the station. So we went back to Jigalong to be with the families so they know them then.

It was good to take them back, back in the school because I need them to have a good education. We settled down my partner was a pastoral manager for wallakanya (the whole big area) and I use to help him doing station works Billinooka and Walgun and Jigalong pastoral leases looking after the cattle there. Branding them and feeding them with a lot of hays, we use to ride down to Midland to sell the cattle on the community truck. It was really hard getting all the cattle in one single truck we use to get a cattle train to. I was doing the paper work for all that work.

I remember in Yalleen there is one big tree covered in those ants and they light up they light up like they are on fire at night time. Beautiful. That place is next to Port Hedland and Indee Station side.

 I been doing a lot of charcoal drawings and bark painting in Jigalong. I learnt charcoal in school I love that it’s easy you sketch maybe a tree and you can always put the shadings on it using your thumbs and even on the clouds.

Now I’m painting with Martumili which I really love, when im in town I paint. I paint about seven sisters and water holes and my ngurra (home Country, camp), my homelands all around Jigalong, Puntawarrie around Parnngurr around Yulpul area.”

© the artist / art centre