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
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.