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“Parlu, it’s a big hill. That’s the Country down Katjarra (Carnarvon Range) way. I been there for my [Native Title] Determination. Different colours there- when the sun goes down in Katjarra that hill will be turning really dark orange, really nice colour.”

– Miriam Atkins 

Parlu is a waterhole and adjacent hill located within the Blue Hills range of the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area, at the southern end of Martu Country. Birriliburu lies at the intersection of the Little Sandy and Gibson Deserts of Western Australia, and is characterised largely by the red sand dunes and rocky outcrops typical of the Gibson Desert region. Associated with the waterhole at Parlu are the various ancestral jila (snakes) that live in this region. 

Also within the Birriliburu Indigenous Protected Area, at its south western corner, are the Katjarra mountain ranges. Katjarra was an important camping place for Martu walking between Jigalong and Wiluna for law business up until the late 1960s, as well as Martu who walked the Canning Stock Route into Wiluna. As is referred to here, Katjarra was the site of the 2008 Birriliburru Native Title Determination, one of the first land grants to Martu.

All the sites referred to in Miriam’s account of the area are part of her ngurra (home Country, camp). The Western Desert term ‘ngurra’ is hugely versatile in application. Broadly denoting birthplace and belonging, ngurra can refer to a body of water, a camp site, a large area of Country, or even a modern house. People identify with their ngurra in terms of specific rights and responsibilities, and the possession of intimate knowledge of the physical and cultural properties of one’s Country. This knowledge is traditionally passed intergenerationally through family connections. Painting ngurra, and in so doing sharing the Jukurrpa (Dreaming) stories and physical characteristics of that place, has today become an important means of cultural maintenance. Physical maintenance of one’s ngurra, like cultural maintenance, ensures a site’s wellbeing, and is a responsibility of the people belonging to that area.

Name: Miriam Atkins

Language: Putijarra


Miriam Atkins was born in 1947 on Bulloo Downs Station, located south east of Newman. She is the sister of highly acclaimed Martumili Artist Yunkurra Billy Atkins. Today Miriam lives between Newman and Jigalong Aboriginal community.

Miriam was one of the pioneering painters at Martumili Artists. She paints her family’s ngurra (home Country, camp), spanning from the southern end of the Canning Stock Route through to Kumpupirntily (Kumpupintily, Lake Disappointment). Miriam has developed a unique painting style, oscillating between naive realist landscapes and more highly abstracted depictions of her Country, blending traditional symbology with beautifully patterned motifs. Her paintings have been exhibited across Australia as part of several group exhibitions.

© the artist / art centre