at Emu waterhole

Between the end of  the 2016 Milpirri Festival and prior to leaving  Lajamanu we visited Emu water hole just outside Lajamanu. The waterhole was full  and it in a  Tanami desert-scape of sparse vegetation ( spinifex, desert oaks, acacias and mulga trees), blue skies and strong sunlight.   The history of the desert  is one of a  ice gre around 20,000 years ago,  which retreated around  11,000 years ago and the rangelands  emerged.  That shift  to an arid zone is a climate change event.

Desert in Australia  traditionally means unsuitable for pastoral undue to the sandy soils that are deficient in nutrients  and the spikesy spinifex grasses that are unpalatable to stock.

Kitty + Ursula, Emu Waterhole

The Warlpiri have  extensive knowledge of water sources  in  the flat terrain  in their dreaming stories, their vocabulary has names for  different types of transient or permanent waterholes (e.g, rock holes, soakages)  and they  pass their  knowledge about water holes and food tracks on through dance and paintings. I started to decode these paintings whilst at Lajamanu —I got as as far as circles for waterholes, lines for journeys, half-circles for people.  Continue reading


to Lajamanu: Mildura

In mid-2016  after I’d  bought a swag I accepted Judith Crispin’s invitation  to  join  her and her friends to travel to the northern Tanami Desert to see the Warlpiri people’s Milpirri Festival at Lajamanu.

The Festival is held every two years  on the cusp of the rainy season at Lajamanu,  and it is the result of a collaboration between the Lajamanu Community, the Tracks Dance Company and the Lajamanu School.


Judith and her friends were travelling from Sydney and I’d  arranged to drive up  to Mildura from Victor Harbor  via the Mallee and Calder highways to join them at a caravan park on the NSW side  of the River Murray at Mildura. The arrangement was that we’d would camp overnight at Mildura.

In the morning I would leave  my car in the Mildura Airport’s long term carpark  and  then travel with  Judith and friends in her LandRover Discovery. The plan was to  stay overnight at Pimba, near Woomera in South Australia,  before making our way to Alice Springs the next day. We would then pick up  another group of friends  that Judith had invited, and then travel in convoy to Lajamanu via the Tanami Road. The round trip is roughly 8000 km.

Continue reading