The Last Desert Nomads: Walala and Thomas Tjapaltjarri
What could be more amazing, in the year 1984, than for a tribe of nomadic people to
encounter for the first time, another group of humans – people so different from them as to
re-define the term ‘alien’.
Well, that is what happened to the Pintupi tribe of nomadic aboriginals when they walked
out of the desert and came face-to-face with white skinned humans – wearing strange
clothes and travelling in moving metal boxes called cars!
I first met these fascinating people when I was introduced, via the “bush telegraph” to the
Tjapaltjarri brothers, Walala and Thomas (his adopted ‘western’ name).
Both men were of the Pintupi tribe with its own blood and language group. They each
married a woman from a different language group. As with Europeans, this presented some
challenges of communication and adjusting. So it was even more challenging for me as a
complete outsider (and to them, a real alien) to establish a rapport with these people. But
the bush telegraph has preceded me, and my reputation as a compassionate person with a
genuine respect and belief in learning and understanding aboriginal culture opened the
door for me.
Through this respect and understanding I was slowly, but sincerely, accepted into their
world and over time, gained their trust and respect. What followed was a unique
opportunity to engage these talented artists to produce for me artworks depicting a
spiritual connection to their land unlike anything seen before.
I consider myself very privileged that I have been granted the opportunity to commission
works of art by the Tjapaltjarri brothers. Over the decade since our first meeting, I have
commissioned paintings from Walala and Thomas and every painting is of the Tingari
Dreaming, painted in various colours tones. Walala really enjoyed painting for me because I
encouraged him to explore new colours and unusual sizes. This is why I built a unique
collection of their work, I felt every painting is personal.
The group of ancestral spirit beings is known as the ‘Tingari’ which brought law and culture
to the people of the Western Desert. Their journeys are of important, sacred sites and
activities covering a huge area stretching from Pintupi country, around 500km west of Alice
Springs, Kintore, Kiwirrkurra and across to Papunya region 250 km west of Alice Springs,
southwest to the Great Sandy Desert and north to the Tanami deserts around Balgo Hills.
Their depictions are numerous in Western Desert art and follow the ceremonial song lines.