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Wantili (Warntili, Canning Stock Route Well 25)

“Wantili (Warntili, Canning Stock Route Well 25) area, close to Parnngurr. My ngurra (home Country, camp), my jamu’s (grandfather’s) Country, my father’s daddy, Jakayu [Biljabu’s] daddy and my daddy’s Country. Jakayu been bury her father there. In pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) days, my family and Jakayu’s family been walking round there together. Big sandhills here. Sandhill, sandhill, sandhill everywhere. Claypan there, in the middle. Good place for swimming and drinking, for hunting little kangaroo. When no water [we would] go to [the adjacent Canning Stock Route] well. When there [was] rain we stay there at Wantili. Everywhere, we been walking everywhere.       

Near to Wantili, road [Canning Stock Route] going kayili (north). Long time [ago] only horses and cattle [travelled along that road], going Meekatharra and back in the cold time, gone right up to GJ (Georgia) Bore. Half way, when he see water at Wantili, that mob would camp one night, bullock eating all the grass and men’s drinking water. One Martu been working with that mob, droving bullock. Every time he been give us meat, all the pujimanpa (desert dwellers).”

– Ngamaru Bidu


Wantili is a large round jurnu (soak) and linyji (claypan) near Well 25 on the Canning Stock Route. The Wantili region is dominated by claypans surrounded by tuwa (sandhills), and Nyilangkurr, a prominent yapu (hill) is located close to the eastern edge of the claypan. Following rain the typically dry claypans are filled with water, with the overflow from nearby waterholes flowing to Wantili. At that time, Wantili becomes an important place for obtaining fresh water for drinking and bathing. Wantili is significant for the fact that at this site Kartujarra, Manyjilyjarra, Putijarra and Warnman people would all come together for ceremonies during the pujiman era. Many jiwa (stones used by women for grinding seeds) from these times, including those used by Ngamaru’s family, can still be found there today.

Wantili lies within Ngamaru’s ngurra (home Country, camp) through her grandfather and father. As described in her account, Wantili was one of the sites Ngamaru knew intimately and travelled extensively with her family and other family groups, such as the Biljabu family. During the pujiman period Martu would traverse very large distances annually, moving seasonally from water source to water source, and hunting and gathering bush tucker as they went. Knowledge of water sources was critical for survival, and today Martu Country is still defined in terms of the location and type of water. 

As Ngamaru recounts, Wantili also held significance for her as a site of contact between her family and kartiya (white people); drovers with their cattle travelling along the Canning Stock Route. The establishment of the route by Alfred Canning and his team in 1910 resulted in first contact with Europeans for many Martu, including Ngamaru and her family. Increasingly, Martu followed the route to newly established ration depots, mission and pastoral stations. They were drawn to the route in search of food, by a sense of curiosity, or by loneliness. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, most of the desert family groups had left the desert. Eventually, these factors combined with an extreme and prolonged drought in the 1960s to prompt the few remaining pujimanpa to move in from the desert. 

Culturally, Wantili is an incredibly important site in two central Jukurrpa (Dreaming) stories. The first relates to the world’s creation. In this narrative, the world was initially dark, and people were like rocks, with no arms or legs. Following the sun’s first rising, life-forms become increasingly complex while particular features in the land are created. Beyond these details much of the narrative is ngurlu (sacred, taboo), and only for Martu, but the site is open, and anyone can go there. 

Wantili is also one of the many sites featured in the epic Minyipuru (Jakulyukulyu, Seven Sisters) Jukurrpa story. Minyipuru is a central Jukurrpa narrative for Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people that is associated with the seasonal Pleiades star constellation. Relayed in song, dance, stories and paintings, Minyipuru serves as a creation narrative, a source of information relating to the physical properties of the land, and an embodiment of Aboriginal cultural laws. The story follows the movement of a group of women travelling all the way across the desert, beginning at Roebourne on the coast of Western Australia, as they are pursued by Yurla, a lustful old man. As the women travelled, they stopped to rest at many sites to eat, dance, rest and sing, on the way leaving behind an assortment of articles that became formations in the land, such as groupings of rocks and trees, grinding stones and seeds. The sisters rested at Wantili before throwing seeds, then continued their journey far to the east and beyond Martu Country, stopping at various sites through central and South Australia.

Name: Ngamaru Bidu

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Parnngurr


“I been born [around] Karanyal and Martilirri (Canning Stock Route Well 22) in the parna (ground), only claypan. My jamu (grandfather) [was also] Jakayu [Biljabu's] father, my father's daddy. My mummy born long way, near to Wikirri (Midway Well) area. My father born Pitu (Separation Well). I’m biggest one [I was the eldest of five siblings]; me, Neil, Ivy, Gladys, then Caroline. My sister Gladys been born Wantili, Ivy born Georgia Bore (Pitarny), Caroline been born in Jigalong [Mission]. We walked around together [as we were] growing up.”

[As a child, Ngamaru walked around with her family, living a pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) lifestyle. In 1963 Ngamaru saw a whitefella for the first time near Wiirnukurrujunu rockhole; surveyor Len Beadell grading a road across the desert as part of a military weapons testing program. Shortly after this meeting Ngamaru, along with the other 28 Martu she had been travelling with, was tracked and pursued up by the Native Welfare Department. The group was eventually persuaded to move to Jigalong mission to join their relatives that had already moved in from the desert.] 

“They been chase us, long way - me, Ivy, and Kuru (Gladys) ran away with Mitchell and Teddy Biljabu. Kumpaya, Bugai and my mother ran away quick too. Landrover he been pick us up for Parngurr, all the lot, [driving on the] track for Jigalong. Family all coming in. I been come for first time [it was my first time in a vehicle]. I was naked one, put a blanket for kurnta (shame). I been living there in Jigalong with my mummy and family. I been working in the dining hall, making bread for kid. I been meet my nyupa (spouse), Mr Booth, and had a son, Ned Booth.” 

 - Ngamaru Bidu


Ngamaru was born at Martilirri (Well 22 on the Canning Stock Route), the eldest of four siblings. Her mother came from the area around Wikirri and her father from Pitu. As a child Ngamaru lived a pujiman lifestyle, and walked around with her family, moving from water source to water source dependent on the seasonal rain cycles. They often travelled with their extended relatives, Bugai Whyoulter and Jakayu Biljabu’s families. 

When Ngamaru was a teenager, her family and their travelling companions were tracked by Native Patrol Officers and staff from the Jigalong Mission. The group was persuaded to move to Jigalong Mission, where they rejoined the many family members that had already moved in from the desert. At the mission, Ngamaru’s sister and some of the Biljabu family were sent to school, but Ngamaru went to work making bread. 

From Jigalong Ngamaru moved to Strelley Community, where she met her husband, Joshua Booth. Together with their children they later moved to Warralong and then Punmu Aboriginal Communities before settling in Parnngurr Aboriginal community (Cotton Creek), where Ngamaru continues to live today. 

Ngamaru has painted with Martumili since its inception in 2006. She has frequently painted with senior artists and relatives Mitutu Mabel Wakarta (dec.) and Kumpaya Girgaba. Ngamaru is known for the beautifully complex compositional structures and intricate patterning in her work, through which she very often explores the practice of fire burning in her Country and its related Martu cyclical seasonal changes. Ngamaru’s work has been exhibited in galleries internationally and throughout Australia, and acquired by the National Museum of Australia. She was selected in 2019 for the prestigious John Stringer Art Prize exhibition.

© the artist / art centre