Songlines: Martu Country

Songlines: Martu Country

30 November 2021

Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring the three deserts that feature in the ‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters’ exhibition in more detail. We’re starting with Martu Country, which is the first desert you encounter after you’ve read the introduction to the exhibition on the first floor of The Box.

In the gallery that highlights Martu (pronounced Mar-doo) Country you meet the Seven Sisters (known here as Minyipuru) and their pursuer (known here as Yurla) for the first time.

Their journey starts in the northern part of Western Australia and travels east along two main songlines, or dreaming tracks. As they flee we learn about the Seven Sisters' escapades, the impact of Yurla's behaviour and we're given vital information about how to survive in the desert.

A group of woven female figures on a gold plinth

The works in this gallery include vibrant acrylic paintings on linen and canvas, basketry, weaving and objects carved from wood. Some of the paintings on display are huge. The woven objects have been made with a range of natural materials including plant fibre and grass.

People looking at large bright paintings in an exhibition
People looking at paintings in an exhibition
Close up of a woven figure of a female
Close up of a brightly coloured woven basket

Here are some key facts about the Martu:

  • The Martu are the traditional owners of a large part of central Western Australia.
  • They were some of the last of Australia’s Indigenous people to make contact with European Australians.
  • Like many Aboriginal people, Martu speak or understand a number of different languages.
  • The 2002 film ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ by award-winning Australian film maker Philip Noyce is set in Martu Country.
  • Martu lands are part of the most intact arid ecosystem in the world and one of the last wild havens for a number of highly threatened desert species.
  • The cultural identity of the Martu is intertwined with the land, and the survival of this vast, dry and unique area depends on the continuation of age-old land management practices such as traditional burning.
  • Martu elders have huge experience and hold great knowledge of their Country which is vital for future generations to learn about and preserve.

For Martu people who live in this land, it’s the songline and the land around this area, it’s so special to them. We connect with the land - it’s our dreaming, our spirits, our culture. It’s my life.

Clifton Girigrba, Parnngurr

The information in this post was sourced from the Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa website. Visit it to find out even more about Martu Country and the Martu people.
Thanks also to the National Museum of Australia and the curators of 'Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters'.