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Kunawarritji Rockholes

“These are the rockholes around Kunawarritji (Canning Stock Route Well 33). My mum [Jugarda Dulcie Gibbs] painted the same. It’s my father’s Country; he was born at Well 33. I’m painting Well 35, Kinyu, all the way to Well 38, Wajaparni. This is a big place for us. It’s important. I went on a trip with Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa [ranger group] last year [2018] to visit all these rockholes.”

– Pauline Williams 

Kunawarritji is an important site in the Great Sandy Desert where multiple stories and histories intersect. The area forms part of Pauline’s ngurra (home Country, camp) through her family. Originally a spring water and major Martu pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) camping site, at the turn of the 20th century Kunawarritji was converted into a well along the Canning Stock Route. Each year throughout the 1930-50s, the well became a site of contact between the drovers, their cattle, and desert families.

Long before colonial history entered this Country, however, other stories dominated the site. Primarily, Kunawarritji features in the Minyipuru (Jakulyukulyu, Seven Sisters) Jukurrpa (Dreaming). Minyipuru is a central Jukurrpa narrative for Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people that is associated with the seasonal Pleiades star constellation. Today, Kunawarritji is a site of return, a place where people came back to continue their life in the desert with the formation of Kunawarritji Aboriginal community in the early 1980s. The community’s cultural significance endures, with the population swelling up to 1000 during cultural business. 

As Pauline states in her account, this work depicts the waterholes and tali (sandhills) in the area surrounding Kunawarritji, typically represented with circular forms. During the pujiman period, knowledge of water sources was critical for survival, and today Martu Country is still defined in terms of the location and type of water. Each of the hundreds of claypans, rockholes, waterholes, soaks and springs found in the Martu desert homelands is known through real life experience and the recounting of Jukurrpa narratives by name, location, quality and seasonal availability.

Transfer of cultural knowledge through visual arts is an important way for Martu artists to keep their culture strong. Younger Martu artists like Pauline typically begin painting with their parents, grandparents and extended family, thus fostering an organic process of learning, not only about painting techniques, but also specific locations, family histories, traditional ways of life, bush tucker and  Jukurrpa

Name: Pauline Williams

Language: Manyjilyjarra

Community: Kunawarritji


Pauline is the daughter of renowned Martumili artist Jugarda (Dulcie) Gibbs. Pauline frequently paints her mother's traditional country between the Percival Lakes and Kunawarritji.

© the artist / art centre