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Kumpupirntily (Kumpupintily, Lake Disappointment)

“That’s Kumpupirntily- Lake Disappointment. The cannibals live underneath the lake there. It’s a salt lake. That’s all the ladies sitting around the lake, sitting around the claypans in the lake. That’s our Country; mine and Yunkurra’s [Billy Atkins’] Country.”

– Judith Anya Samson

Kumpupirntily lies within Anya’s ngurra (home Country, camp) through her family. This a stark, flat and unforgiving expanse of blinding salt lake is surrounded by sand hills, and located in the Little Sandy and Gibson Desert of Western Australia. Kumpupirntily translates to ‘bladder burst’; the lake was formed when the bladder of the Jila Kujarra (Two Snakes) burst here. Jila Kujarra is one of the key Jukurrpa (Dreaming) 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. 

Later in the Jukurrpa period the Ngayurnangalku (ancestral cannibal beings) made Kumpupirntily their home, where they continue to remain today. For this reason Kumpupirntily is considered one of the most sacred and dangerous sites of the Western Desert. The Ngayurnangalku are fearsome ancestral cannibal beings said to resemble people in their appearance, except for their fangs and long curved knife like fingernails they use to catch and hold their human victims. 

At Kumpupirntily, the Ngayurnangalku had a meeting to debate whether or not they would continue to live as cannibals, and eventually came to the decision to stop eating people. That night, a female baby cannibal was born. Following protocol, the baby also had to be consulted by the group. She determined that the Ngayurnangalku should continue to eat people. Her decision divided the group, and from this point the group from the east continued to live as ‘bad’ cannibals at Kumpupirntily, while the group from the west became ‘good’, thereafter consuming only animals. 

The cannibal Ngayurnangalku still live beneath the crust of Kumpupirntily lake in an underground world lit by their own sun. They surface only to feed on human flesh, coming in and out of the world we see through a small hill that acts as a gateway between worlds; Yapu Maparnpa (magical hill). Stored with the Ngayurnangalku in their underground world is an arsenal of maparnpa (holding power for sorcery) weapons, as well as deposits of pujurrpa (red ochre) that the Ngayurnangalku use to paint themselves with when they dance.

Several phenomena at Kumpupirntily act as a warning of the imminent appearance of the Ngayurnangalku; still skies, wilany (boomerang-shaped clouds), and the emergence of the parla-parla (type of lizard), smacking their mouths. The vigilance of the Martu as they travel in the Country around Kumpupirntily is so great that several other precautions are followed; fires are not lit, planes and helicopters are not flown directly over the area, and digging in the lake is strongly discouraged. All of these activities are believed to disturb the Ngayurnangalku, causing them to rise from their underground world.

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