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Nyayartakujarra (Ngayarta Kujarra, Lake Dora) and Mulunyjarra Soak

“This painting shows Nyayartakujarra (Lake Dora) and the waterholes. In pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) days we all walked from waterhole to waterhole. We were travelling around for a long time; we were all naked! We grew up walking all around these waterholes. This painting is a map from that time. All of these waterholes are still here, with all of the songs and all of the dances. We are still singing and dancing for this Country.”

 – Mantararr (Muntararr) Rosie Williams (dec.), Jakayu Biljabu, Yikartu Bumba, Nyanjilpayi (Ngarnjapayi) Nancy Chapman, Mulyatingki Marney, Mayiwalku May Chapman, and Reena Rogers

Nyayartakujarra is a vast and culturally significant salt lake located in the north east section of the Karlamilyi River region. Surrounding Nyayartakujarra are numerous fresh water soaks and the red tali (sandhills) typical of the area. Punmu Aboriginal Community, where Nyanjilpayi lives today, lies on the eastern edge of the lake. Nyayartakujarra lies within Nyanjilpayi’s ngurra (home Country, camp), the area which she knew intimately and travelled extensively with her family in her youth. 

Nyayartakujarra is an important site in the Jila Kujarra (Two Snakes) Jukurrpa (Dreaming) narrative. 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.

Before transforming themselves into snakes, the Jila Kujarra were young brothers. As snakes, they began travelling home to their mother, but were intercepted by the Niminjarra, who tracked the Jila Kujarra to Paji, east of Nyayartakujarra. Here they eluded the Niminjarra, but the Jila Kujarra were soon after speared and injured at Nyayartakujarra by two Pukurti (initiates with bundled hair), who returned with the Niminjarra to cook the snakes at the site of Kumpupirntily (Kumpupintily, Lake Disappointment). As the Niminjarra cut down the length of the Jila Kujarra, the snake’s bladders were pierced, causing an explosion of scalding hot urine in which the Niminjarra all perished and became black rocks at the site. At the same time, the urine of the Jila Kujarra formed the lake at Kumpupirntily, which translates to ‘bladder burst’. The spirits of the Jila Kujarra returned to their mother at Nyayartakujarra, where the mother and her sons entered the ground below the lake and remain to this day.

Name: Nancy Nyanjilpayi (Ngarnjapayi) Chapman

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Punmu


“When I was little, I used to stand up all the time, looking for the old people to come back bringing food. The old people gave me that name, Nyanjilpayi [‘standing up’].”

- Nyanjilpayi (Ngarnjapayi) Nancy Chapman


"When I was born my spirit appeared at Jarntinti. That's my Country, Jarntinti. I know all about it, about that water over there, about my home, our grandparent's Country. We travelled all around as pujiman, camping and then setting off again by foot. We didn't get tired. We just kept on going. Sometimes it would rain, so we would build a shelter, just like a tent. Inside we would light a fire. Our pujiman lifestyle was very healthy and we didn't get sick very often. Even when it was cold we continued to walk around in good health.

I'm working on my painting of those waterholes, I was drinking from them long ago as a pujiman. My family's water, my grandmother's, my grandfathers and my ancestors. I was taught from them. Our knowledge is ancient and has been passed on by our grandparents. Young people need to keep looking after it."  

- Nyanjilpayi Nancy Chapman as translated by Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa


Nyanjilpayi is a Manyjilyjarra woman, born in the 1940s at Jarntinti, a large claypan at the southern end of Nyayartakujarra (Lake Dora) and within the Karlamilyi (Rudall River) region. She is the sister of fellow senior Martumili Artists Mulyatingki Marney, Mayiwalku Chapman and Marjorie Yates (dec.). As children, Nyanjilpayi and her family walked around the Punmu, Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 33) and Karlamilyi regions. A severe and prolonged drought extended through many years during this formative period in her life, and Nyanjilpayi remembers this as a difficult time. Although her family knew about the mission at Jigalong, where a supply of rationed food and water was assured, they chose to continue to live nomadically and independently for many years.

Both of Nyanjilpayi’s parents passed away when she and her siblings were still very young, leaving them to survive by themselves in the desert. For a time the sisters travelled alone, occasionally meeting and travelling with other people and family groups that cared for them, including renowned artists Eubena Nampitjin (dec.) and Nora Nungabar (Nyangapa) (dec.). 

Finally Nyanjilpayi and her sisters decided to walk to Balfour Downs, where they were collected by Jigalong Mission staff. At Jigalong Nyanjilpayi met her husband Minyawe Miller. From there the couple lived and worked together on several cattle stations throughout the Pilbara, and mined for minerals with a yandy (winnowing dish) whilst raising their children. As a family they relocated to Punmu Aboriginal community as foundational members during the ‘Return to Country’ movement of the 1980’s, where they lived for many years before moving between Newman and Port Hedland in more recent times.

Nyanjilpayi is one of Martumili’s pioneering artists. She is known for her energetic, diverse, and experimental approach to painting, and has developed a range of unique and technically sophisticated styles. Nyanjilpayi’s artworks depict her ngurra (home Country, camp), the Country she walked as a young woman; its animals, plants, waterholes and associated Jukurrpa (Dreaming) narratives. Her work has been exhibited widely across Australia and internationally, and acquired by the National Museum of Australia.

© the artist / art centre