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Waru (fire)

This work depicts the practice of fire burning as it continues to be used today through the Martu homelands. Over thousands of years, as Martu travelled and hunted on foot they would burn tracts of land, using waru (fire) as a means to assist with hunting and to encourage regenerative growth. Whilst fire burning practices have modernised in recent times, with Martu burning areas close to Aboriginal communities and along roads, or else further afield using helicopters and 4WDs with Indigenous ranger group Karnyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ), the same objectives are met as those during pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) times.

Targeted waru 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. Fires are typically burnt during cooler weather in small, controlled areas, reducing the risk of unmanageable, spontaneous bush fires whilst simultaneously providing diverse regenerating habitats. Remaining is a defined mosaic fire scar pattern in the land, across tali (sand dunes), linyji (clay pans), parulyukurru (spinifex country) and pila (sandy plains). This patterning is clearly visible from an aerial perspective, and becomes even more defined as new growth emerges. 

The patchwork nature of regrowth is aligned with the Martu cycle of burning and regrowth and its five distinct phases. First is nyurnma (freshly burnt Country), followed after the rains by waru-waru, when young, bright green plants start to grow. Nyukura occurs between one and three years after burning, when plants have matured and are fruiting and seeding. Manguu is four to six years post burning, when spinifex has matured to the point that it can be burned once again. Finally, kunarka signifies the time when spinifex and other plant species have become old growth, and pose a risk of destructive bushfires.

Name: Curtis Taylor

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Parnngurr


Curtis Taylor is a filmmaker and screen artist. Growing up in the remote Martu desert communities and in the city, Curtis has gained both traditional Martu knowledge and a Western education. After finishing school in 2008, Curtis worked as Community Coordinator and Youth Development Officer at Martu Media (a division of Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa), where he also spent 18 months working on Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route as a filmmaker and youth ambassador. Curtis was the recipient of 2011 Western Australian Youth Art Award and Westfarmers Youth Scholarship and his screen work has been shown in international film festivals, including the 2012 Nepal International Indigenous Film Archive Festival. Currently Curtis is undertaking film and media studies at Murdoch University in Perth. 

© the artist / art centre