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Old Jigalong

Jigalong Aboriginal Community, the largest of the Martu communities, is located on the western edge of the Little Sandy Desert, not far from the town of Newman. Jigalong was established in 1907 as the site for a maintenance and rations store for workmen constructing the Rabbit Proof Fence, and was converted into a camel breeding site in the 1930’s before finally becoming a Christian mission under the Apostolic Church in 1947. Old Jigalong is where the camp on Jigalong Station was situated before the present Community was built. Jigalong and its surrounding land was returned to the Martu in 1974. 

For many Martu, Jigalong Mission was the site where their pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) lifestyle came to an end from the late 1940s. From this time, they mostly transitioned to a life as stockmen and women working in cattle stations in the Pilbara region and beyond. In the wake of the extreme and prolonged drought of the 1960s, the last of the remaining pujimanpa (desert dwellers) were forced to move to missions like Jigalong, where a supply of food and water was assured. There, many were reunited with family members that had already moved in from the desert.

Name: Heather Samson

Community: Jigalong


“I was born out at Jigalong Mission and grew up in mission with my families. I went to school there right up to year 7. Finished then and worked around the community for a while as a single lady. I worked in the school for a little while then I worked in the clinic for 4 years, I did a lot of things like taking temperatures when people got sick and doing first aid on them as well. Then I went on to meet my partner. We got married and went to live on the station Yalleen near Pannawonica. We were working up and down, Belfer downs and Yalleen. We had kids then, I looked after my oldest sisters daughter and took her as my own and grew her up, then I had my own. Philipa first then Anthony and Caleb and Tanya and I adopted Elton, as they grew old enough to go back to the community  I wanted to take them there they didn’t know any of my families coz they grew up in the station. So we went back to Jigalong to be with the families so they know them then.

It was good to take them back, back in the school because I need them to have a good education. We settled down my partner was a pastoral manager for wallakanya (the whole big area) and I use to help him doing station works Billinooka and Walgun and Jigalong pastoral leases looking after the cattle there. Branding them and feeding them with a lot of hays, we use to ride down to Midland to sell the cattle on the community truck. It was really hard getting all the cattle in one single truck we use to get a cattle train to. I was doing the paper work for all that work.

I remember in Yalleen there is one big tree covered in those ants and they light up they light up like they are on fire at night time. Beautiful. That place is next to Port Hedland and Indee Station side.

 I been doing a lot of charcoal drawings and bark painting in Jigalong. I learnt charcoal in school I love that it’s easy you sketch maybe a tree and you can always put the shadings on it using your thumbs and even on the clouds.

Now I’m painting with Martumili which I really love, when im in town I paint. I paint about seven sisters and water holes and my ngurra (home Country, camp), my homelands all around Jigalong, Puntawarrie around Parnngurr around Yulpul area.”

© the artist / art centre