Ara Irititja by Niningka Lewis

Ara Irititja

Walka is Desert design and inextricably linked with Tjukurpa: the Law and way of life of Anangu (Central and Western Desert Aboriginal people). The symbols were traditionally used in cave, ground and body paintings, in story telling, teaching and signalling inheritance. Meaning of the designs depends on its subject and particular people are responsible for their re-creation and teaching according to the Tjukurpa. Highly experienced craftspeople have grown up making traditional tools and weapons under the instruction of their elders. They now apply this knowledge and express their world through art such as this.

Both the dot painting and etching techniques, where walka is burnt into the wood with wire heated on a wood fire, have become Centralian traditions, evolving with the adaptation of traditional design for public display and as a depiction of Tjukurpa and landscape.

Following the initial contact of the Pitjantjatjara of this area with white Presbyterian ministers, the first community was established around a sheep station at Ernabella in the late 1930s. Coinciding with a severe drought, it drew people to settle there from hundreds of miles to the west where the conditions were extreme. Support was given to Anangu with provisions and employment, and also to retain their language and local culture.

In this walka board Niningka is reminiscing about irititja or early days. Her parents were part of the first generation of people at Ernabella and much of her childhood was spent there during her people’s first contact with non-indigenous Australians. The new ways of accessing both water and travelling the country depicted here were key in revolutionizing the lives of Anangu.