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Punmu refers to a region and an Aboriginal community within its vicinity, located 670km North-East of Newman. Created during the return to Country movement of the 1980s, with the recognition of Martu land rights and native title, the community was named after a nearby Jukurrpa (Dreaming) story.

Punmu Aboriginal community sits on the edge of a large salt lake known as Nyayartakujarra, or Lake Dora. The lake runs south into Karlamilyi River (Rudall River). Surrounding Punmu are numerous fresh water soaks and the red tali (sandhills) typical of the area. The most frequently visited yinta (permanent springs) around Punmu include Wirlarra, Rawa, Yilyara, Jila-jila and Tuu-tuu.

The Country around Punmu features in several Jukurrpa stories. Of particular importance is the story of the Jila Kujarra (Two Snakes), one of the key Jukurrpa narratives for the Martu. Though the story belongs to Warnman people, it is shared across the Western Desert with several other language groups. The narrative centres on the travels of two snakes as they are pursued by the Niminjarra, spiritual ancestors of the Warnman people. 

Before transforming themselves into snakes, the Jila Kujarra were young brothers. As snakes, they began travelling home to their mother, but were intercepted by the Niminjarra, who tracked the Jila Kujarra to Paji, east of Nyayartakujarra (Lake Dora). Though the Jila Kujarra eluded their pursuers here by escaping under the lake at Paji, they were soon after speared and injured by two Pukurti (initiates with bundled hair) at Nyayartakujarra, who returned with the Niminjarra to cook the snakes at the site of Kumpupirntily (Kumpupintily, Lake Disappointment). As the Niminjarra cut down the length of the Jila Kujarra, the snake’s bladders were pierced, causing an explosion of scalding hot urine in which the Niminjarra all perished and became black rocks at the site. The spirits of the Jila Kujarra returned to their mother at Nyayartakujarra, where the mother and her sons entered the ground below Nyayartakujarra and remain to this day.

Name: Michelle Thomas

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Punmu


I first grew up in Bidyadanga then went to Punmu Community, up and down.

I go out with the Punmu KJ (Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa) rangers. I like to learn from the old people, telling their stories when we out on Country and learning about family trees.

My grandmother and grandfather I was leraning from them. My grandmother (Jan Billycan) was partners with [artists] Minyawe (Millier) before Nyanjilpayi (Chapman)

They were always telling me what to do when they were painting saying “come here come here help me, give me a hand’ and I would sit around and they would tell stories of the old days. When I go out with the rangers and see the landscape I get inspired to see how I might paint it, different waterholes, rockholes, claypans, soaks everything.

© the artist / art centre