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Pitu (Separation Well)

Ngurra me, my ngurra (this is my Country, my home). Mummy mili Pitu and Kulilu (My mother’s home Country is around the permanent springs of Pitu and Kulilu). I been born [at] Pitu. Two mummy, one daddy born there too there. Two yinta (permanent springs) [can be found in the area], one Pitu name. Kirti-kirti (hill kangaroos) everywhere there, good hunting Country. Jila (snake) resting there, dream time. Minyipuru (Jakulyukulyu, Seven Sisters), they travelled through Pitu.”

 –  Jakayu Biljabu

 “Jakayu paints the main yinta that sustained her family during the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) days. Pitu and Kulilu is part of Jakayu’s story, part of her home. It’s who she is. This painting shows Pitungakal ngurra, nyaku Kulilu, Jakayu’s ngurra (Jakayu paints looking towards her home Country, Pitu. From here she will see Kulilu, also her home Country). Jakayu walked around here with her mother and father and her two jarntu (dingoes) as a young girl. [This painting] shows the yinta, wattle shrubs and tuwa (sand hills) all around that place. Kalyukaja (plenty of water) all across that Country. Yinta, Kulilu, kalyukaja (that waterhole, Kulilu, is full of water). Pitu is serpent Country. That jila came across from Wirnpa [soak], travelling south through Pitu, making a big mob of kapi (water). Jila is an important ancestral spirit that mapped out that Country.”

 – Jakayu Biljabu, as translated by Glady’s Bidu (Jakayu’s niece and daughter in law)

Pitu (Separation Well) is an important cultural site and large soak located yulparirra (south) of Wuranu (Canning Stock Route Well 29) and Kulilu rockhole and soak. Pitu is Jakayu’s and her mother’s birthplace, and forms an integral part of her ngurra (home Country, camp). Jakayu grew up in this area; she knew the region intimately and travelled around here extensively with her family in her youth. During this time Jakayu’s family would regularly meet around here with fellow Martumili Artists Bugai Whyoulter and Ngamaru Bidu and their families.

As a site where fresh water was available all year, Pitu was an important camp and a meeting place for Kartujarra and Manyjilyjarra people during the pujiman era. At this time, 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 by name, location, quality and seasonal availability through real life experience and the recounting of Jukurrpa (Dreaming) narratives. 

In her account of the area, Jakayu refers to the Jukurrpa events that occurred in and around Pitu. Most significant is the journey of an ancestral rainmaking jila from the Percival Lakes region to Pitu, where it now resides. The Western Desert term jila is used interchangeably to describe springs considered to be ‘living’ waters and snakes, both of which play a central role in Martu culture and Jukurrpa. Of the many permanent springs in Martu Country, very few are ‘living waters’; waters inhabited by jila. Before they became snakes, these beings were men who made rain, formed the land and introduced cultural practices like ceremonies and ritual songs. Some of the men travelled the desert together, visiting one another, but they all ended their journeys at their chosen spring alone, transformed into a snake. Like Pitu, these important springs are named after their jila inhabitant. The Minyipuru also visited this site during their epic travels eastward across Australia. Minyipuru is a central Jukurrpa narrative for Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people that is associated with the seasonal Pleiades star constellation.

Name: Jakayu Biljabu

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Punmu


"I was born in Pitu (Separation Well). Alongside that water place, Pitu, is where I grew up. I became an adult in the desert before I went to Jigalong

I'm really happy when I'm painting my Country. I'm proud as I follow my Country, I'm holding onto my Country. That's my water in the East. I'm painting my Country. It's not someone else's, it's my Country. 

I'm looking after my Country. I'm showing my family the Country. I feel privileged that I can see it. As I watch my children I'm really happy for them. I'm watching them all while they're working, on the Country. I'm so proud of them. I'm looking after them and now I feel fulfilled."

- Jakayu Biljabu as translated by Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa


Jakayu is a Manyjilyjarra woman born in the mid 1930s just north of Pitu (Separation Well), an important cultural site and large soak located yulparirra (south) of Wuranu (Canning Stock Route Well 29). Jakayu lived a pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) lifestyle in her youth, moving through the Country surrounding Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 33), Wikiri, Rarrki (Canning Stock Route Well 27), Wantili (Warntili, Canning Stock Route Well 25), Pitu, Nyilangkurr and Nyinyari. During this time Jakayu’s family would regularly meet and travel with the families of fellow Martumili Artists Bugai Whyoulter and Ngamaru Bidu.

Jakayu’s early contact with whitefellas occurred at wells along the Canning Stock Route, when occasionally drovers would slaughter a bullock and share the meat with her family. Despite these interactions, Jakayu’s father was very wary of the Europeans who travelled along the route in increasing numbers, having heard of the sometimes violent and cruel methods employed by Alfred Canning’s group when the Stock Route was chartered. As such, Jakayu’s family waited longer than most pujimanpa (traditional, desert dwellers) before leaving their traditional life.

Jakayu was travelling with her husband (also the husband of her sister), two children and extended family in 1963 when they encountered the surveyor Len Beadell, who was then grading roads through the Western Desert for the Woomera Missile Testing Range. He notified staff at Jigalong Mission of their whereabouts, and consequently they were tracked; “Two men from Jigalong caught up with us. They had been following our tracks. They said we should go back and wait at Parnngurr rockhole and they would come and pick us up and take us to Jigalong, where we could see all our family who we had not seen for a long time. So we did, we went and stayed in Parnngurr" (Jakayu Biljabu, as translated by Ngalangka Nola Taylor). Jakayu was one of the last Martu to leave the desert.

Jakayu worked as a baker at the Jigalong Mission and then several other stations before moving to the newly Aboriginal owned Strelley station for a time. In 1982, during the ‘Return to Country’ movement, she relocated with her family to Punmu Aboriginal community, where she continues to live today with her children and grandchildren.

Jakayu is a senior Martumili Artist, known for her bold, painterly style and beautiful compositions, deeply entrenched in the Jukurrpa (Dreaming) narratives associated with her Country. She frequently depicts the sandhills, claypans and salt lakes of the Manyjilyjarra desert regions she travelled through to young adulthood, and views painting as an important means of passing cultural knowledge to younger Martu generations. Of recent times, Jakayu has worked on several collaborative paintings with young Martumili Artist Corban Williams. Jakayu is a much acclaimed and awarded artist. Her work has been selected for the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, and she has exhibited widely across Australia and internationally. Jakayu’s work has been acquired by several major institutions in Australia, including The National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, and Queensland Art Gallery’s Gallery of Modern Art.

© the artist / art centre