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Emu Tracks to Puntawarri

“Emu go to the springs to have a drink of water and then move on to the next one.”

– Judith Anya Samson

Puntawarri is an important cultural area, as well as the site of a now abandoned community, a waterhole, creek and lake. Puntawarri is located on the middle stretches of the Canning Stock Route and east of the Jigalong Aboriginal Community, where Judith grew up with her grandmother and senior Martumili Artist Dadda Samson. Both artists continue to live there today.

Puntawarri lies within Judith’s ngurra (home Country, camp) through her mother’s family, and as a young girl she frequently travelled and hunted with her family in this area, learning the stories for this Country. Depicted in this work are the tracks of a group of emus on their way to Puntawarri waterhole, searching for kapi (water). 

Karlaya (emu) were traditionally hunted during the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) era, and they continue to be a favoured bush tucker for Martu today. During the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) 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. Jina (tracks, footprints) are used by Martu people when tracking bush tucker. In the absence of an actual animal sighting, tracks act as an identifier that an animal was present, which can then be followed to the animal’s present location. Besides providing information on location, Martu are able to interpret from tracks the passage of time since the tracks were imprinted, as well as the corresponding animal species and its size.

The softer and more extensive the ground surface, the easier it is to locate and follow tracks, thus certain conditions are favoured for tracking. Tuulparra (spring) and yalijarra (hot time) are preferred over wantajarra (winter), when south easterly tradewinds blow strongly to obscure tracks. Tracks and burrows are also more readily visible in early growth lands, such as nyurnma (freshly burnt Country) and waru-waru (growth of new shoots and young plants). For this reason, fire burning is an important tool in animal tracking. Small burns are lit to clear vegetation, expose burrows, and to allow for access to walk and track readily in exposed sands, while simultaneously providing diverse regenerating habitats.

Name: Judith Anya Samson

Language: Putijarra

Community: Jigalong


"My name is Judith Samson. My skin [group] is Milangka and I speak Martu Wangka. I was born in Hedland, Port Hedland seaside, but I moved to Jigalong community with my nanna [Dadda Samson (dec.)] and my pop. Then we moved to desert, to Puntawarri, [Canning Stock Route] Well 17. I was still a young girl, still crawling in the desert. It was nice there. Some other families lived there with us. We had some farm, some vegetables. We went schooling in Puntawarri at the school, learning ‘two way’ [refers to teaching in both Martu Wangka and English, with a focus on local cultural and ecological knowledge]. We used to go and get some parnajarrpa (goanna) and turkey. We had a Toyota truck. We been go hunting at the desert. Some people there still, but they gotta build some new houses and then we going back to [live in] Puntawarri.

My nanna’s sister had a house here in Newman, so we used to come and visit. I did high school here in Newman. Now I move between Jigalong and Newman. My nanna [was] living in Jigalong, so I still go visit there.

I started to do painting here at Martumili when I was a young girl. I been help my nanna painting, we were painting Puntawarri one. My nanna was teach me to paint. I like to do some painting. I paint the Canning Stock Route, [and Canning Stock Route] Well 17 at Puntawarri. My favourite thing is going out to Country, and go back to Jigalong and Puntawarri, and to do some painting about Country. Painting helps me be strong. My family and my culture is feeling proud. I feel happy when I paint- pukurlpa. Happy! I also like playing softball. We play for Jigalong, Western Desert. I also like to dance and listen to music.

I work with Martumili now. I come to work and wash all the paint, put all the tubs in the colour and wash all the brushes. I help sell the paintings, and photograph and catalogue them. I went to America, Fremantle, the Gold Coast, Sydney,  and Alice Springs with Martumili. I like to work at Martumili- happy, pukurlpa (happy). I also work for KJ (Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa ranger group) mob in Jigalong too."

- Judith Anya Samson


Judith is the granddaughter of Dadda Samson and Yanjimi (Peter) Rowlands, both of whom were highly regarded Martumili artists. She was born in Port Hedland and has lived most of her life in Jigalong. Judith was raised by her grandparents Dadda and Yanjimi, as her parents passed away when she was very young. As Judith describes, she was taught to paint by her grandmother Dadda, who passed stories to her for painting. Judith also spent much time travelling with Dadda to her country around the Puntawarri and the Rabbit Proof Fence areas, both subject of many of her paintings.

Judith has exhibited in most Martumili Artists' exhibitions in recent years. Her work has been acquired by the Art Gallery of Queensland (GOMA) and the National Museum of Australia.

© the artist / art centre