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[BLOG] Martu History

With a history spanning more than 25,000 years, the Martu were one of the last Indigenous populations to come into contact with Europeans.

Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route exhibition is a joint initiative between The National Museum Canberra of Australia and FORM.

These three videos about Martu History were created by Curtis Taylor for the Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route exhibition housed at the National Museum of Australia, from July 30, 2010 – January 26, 2011. The exhibition bought to the fore the stories of contact, conflict and survival, exodus and return to traditional country and was created by Aboriginal artists and communities who call the area home.

The videos were displayed along with other digital media resources at the exhibition on the world’s first large scale mulit-touch LCD screen – the One Road Multimedia Interactive installation, a collaboration between Lightwell, FORM, National Museum of Australia. The exhibition will be open at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre from November 2 – 27, 2011.

Puntukurna Parna, Kuul and Nyiru are three short videos that give an insight into Martu history and culture. The Martu traditionally live in the Pilbara in the Western Desert – and are a collective of different dialect speakers that identify as a single group for social, political and cultural reasons.

With a history spanning more than 25,000 years, the Martu were one of the last Indigenous populations to come into contact with Europeans, until 1905 when the Canning Stock Route wells were being established. From this time onwards Martu were forcibly removed from their land onto missions or settlements like Jigalong. Some Martu did not make contact until the 1960s, most notably the small group of women and children who were tracked and “cleared out” in 1964 to make way for the Blue Streak missile tests fired from Woomera in SA.

The end of the 1970’s saw the missionaries leave Jigalong mission, and the Martu began resettling in their desert lands, establishing the self-autonomous communities of Jigalong, Punmu, Parnngurr, and Kunawarritji. It was not until 2002 that they were granted native title over their land. Today Martu continue to live in their desert communities as well as the surrounding regional towns of Marble Bar, Nullagine, Newman and Port Hedland.

Although not unchanged, cultural practice remains strong with annual ceremonies involving participation from surrounding Indigenous groups from Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia. Martu continue to care for their country through recently established programs of Land Management involving Martu Rangers in each community and a collaboration with government and non-government organisations addressing a range of ecological and cultural issues including pest species management and cultural site preservation.

About the Director
Curtis Taylor, 21yrs, hails from Parnngurr Community, located 400 kms east of Newman. Curtis is an actor, emerging film writer/director and a young Martu leader. He is currently an undergrad at Murdoch University, completing a Bachelor of Culture, Communications and Media. After finishing school in 2008, Curtis worked as Community Coordinator and Youth Development Officer at Martu Media (a division of Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa), where he also spent 18 months working on Yiwarra Kuju as a filmmaker and youth ambassador. Curtis was the recipient of 2011 Western Australian Youth Art Award and Westfarmers Youth Scholarship.

Warning: viewers should be aware that these videos include names and images of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal people.

Puntukurnu Parna

We came from the Jukurrpa (Dreaming), we will obey the rules and laws of Jukurrpa for thousands of generations. No man or woman can change Jukurrpa because it’s Yulubyidi (how it is and how it will always be, until the end). We still practice and follow the Jukurrpa today.

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The first buildings in each community were the schools. Martu wanted their children to learn English but also their own language. The schools in the Western Desert are remote independent schools; not state, not public. This gave the community more input on what their children should be taught. They created the schools to be bilingual schools, teaching English and Martu Wangka together.

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Wati Nyiru is the man who chased the seven sisters across Australia from the west, across the country to the east. This short movie only tells the story of the Warnman (a Martu dialect) part of the Minyipurru (seven sisters) story. It explains the creation of parts of Martu country around Parnngurr Community.

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Yiwarra Kuju | One Road Interactive Table

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  • Shakthi Sivanathan

    Nice work Curtis!

  • Tamara Henry

    Hi! These are great! I’m from NZ and trying to learn about the Martu way of life. Thanks for posting, Tamara

  • http://www.curiousworks.com.au CuriousWorks

    Cheers Tamara – you may also be interested in this: http://www.curiousworks.com.au/journeys/visit-martu-country/

  • Luke van Nieuwkuyk

    This is a wonderful project. It provides a great insight into the history and culture of the Martu. I live in Tasmania but my Mum works with the Martu people and suggested I watch these videos. Cheers, Luke

  • Louise Wood

    this is amazing im on a mine site and learn so much from the martu people here …. so many stories of the seven sisters roam around the village … amazing