These three paintings relate to fire. The Martu’s burning practices are based on the knowledge of plant and animal species and seasonal resources. This knowledge is still being passed down from Martu elders who grew up in the bush. Much of this information is embedded in the paintings, along with the locations of springs, soakwaters and underground water systems.
Minyawe Miller, Karlamilyi River, 2010
The line running down the centre of the painting represents a section of the Rudall River, called Karlamilyi by the Martu traditional owners, cutting between sandhills indicated by horizontal red and yellow lines. There are permanent waterholes along this section of the river, and Minyawe describes it as ‘sweet, special country, even in the summer and the dry times’.
Rita Simpson (Muni), Karlamilyi, 2008
This painting shows six permanent waterholes along a section of the Karlamilyi River, with the patterns of vegetation mosaic represented in detail.
Ngamaru Bidu, Warntili Waru, 2014
Warntili is located on the ancient drainage system that underlies the Canning Stock Route, and the yellow bands indicate the many small watercourses that feed into it during the rainy season.
The red lines represent recent burning, and show how the entire surrounds of the claypan may be burned for hunting purposes and to promote the growth of important food and medicinal plants.
Waru (Fire), 2012, HD and SD video with sound, 8 minutes
Director: Kim Mahood
Filming: Dave Wells, Fiona Walsh
Editor: Erin Coates
Translation: Desmond Taylor
Producer: Erin Coates
Footage contained in this video was shot during Martu ranger trips to care for country in the Western Desert.
Special thanks to Muuki Taylor, Wakka Taylor, Nancy Taylor, the staff at Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa and CSIRO for assisting with the content of this video.
To the Martu, fire means food. A landscape deliberately shaped by fire is a domesticated landscape.
The Martu recognise five distinct stages of vegetation after country has been burned:
NYURNMA: freshly-burned country, good for hunting.
WARU-WARU: the green shots of fresh growth.
NYUKURA: regrowth between one and three years after burning, the period of greatest diversity of useful plants.
MANGUU: four to six years after burning, mature spinifex begins to encroach on plant diversity and can be burned.
KUNARKA: seven years plus after burning, landscape is dominated by old growth spinifex, there is little diversity and a high risk of devastating bushfires cause by lightning.
The paintings shown have been selected for the ways in which they illustrate these fire and vegetation patterns. Both the locations represented in the paintings, Karlamilyi and Warntili, were important meeting places for the different families and language groups during the pujiman (bushman) days, and would have been subjected to regular managed burning. These locations are still visited frequently and the burning practices continue.