Yuendumu is a Warlpiri community of the Australian Tanami Desert, bounded by Anmatyerre Country to the east, Pintubi/Luritja Country to the South and Kukatja Country to the West. It is situated in Aboriginal Protected Land and is controlled by Traditional Owners. The name ‘Yuendumu’ is a derivative of the word ‘Yurntumulya’ which means Karnta Jukurrpa, or Woman Dreaming. The Warlpiri spelling remains ‘Yurntumu’ to this day, ‘Yuendumu’ being the spelling used by white administration. Yuendumu, with approximately 1000 residents, is the largest of four Warlpiri communities in the Tanami, the others being Lajamanu, Nyrripi and Willowra.
In the early 1980s anthropologists brought brightly coloured acrylic paint to the Tanami Desert. In 1983 a group of Warlpiri men began painting Jukurrpa stories on the doors of the local school in order to ensure the younger generation were equipped to carry the songlines into the future. The Yuendumu school today has around 260 students, 95% of which speak Warlpiri as a first language. The Yuendumu doors triggered a revolution in Aboriginal art, becoming famous across Australia and eventually touring the nation. Painters in Yuendumu now work primarily through the Warlukurlangu Art Centre. Many have become very significant figures in contemporary Aboriginal art. Paddy Japaljarri Sims and his collaborators exhibited work at the Pompidou centre in Paris. His daughter Alma Nungarrayi Granites, sister of Otto Jungarrayi Sims, became very well known as the painter of Star Dreaming stories, particularly stories of the Pleiades–the seven sisters. Shorty Jangala Robertson, a painter of Rain Dreaming stories, was also an influential artist from Yuendumu.
Written by Judith Nangala Crispin*