The Last Nomads

Cropped Jpg Digimarc.

When Warlimpirrnga first saw a European he said “I couldn't believe it. I thought he was the devil, a bad spirit and was the colour of clouds at sunrise."

On October 1984, a family of nine Pintupi, referred to in the international press as the ‘Lost Nomads’ or the ‘Pintubi Nine’, were brought in from the Great Sandy Desert in Central Australia and reunited with their extended family at Kiwirrkurra. They included Walala and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri and Tamlik Tjapangati (also referred to as Thomas Tjapaltjarri).

Until this time the small group had lived a nomadic life moving from waterhole to waterhole. It is believed they had become separated from other Pintupi more than twenty years earlier and when ‘found’ the group had never seen a motor vehicle, worn clothes nor had any contact with Western society.

According to the story told by Warlimpirrnga to journalist Nigel Adams1 in February 2007, he had been hunting and seen smoke from a campfire so he approached the camp site. An Aboriginal elder, Pinta Pinta and his family were cooking beside their 4WD vehicle and he asked for water which they obliged. He was naked and carried only a spear and a boomerang. When one of the younger men fired a shot gun in the air, Warlimpirrnga fled.

Pinta Pinta and his family drove back to Kintore to report the incident of ‘the naked ones’ to the Kintore Community Coordinator. Over the next two days a search party which included Geoff Tull, a European, followed Warlimpirrnga’s tracks to a deserted campsite where they found spears. There they waited.

The nomads returned and saw Geoff Tull, ‘the pink man’. This was the first time they had seen a European. ‘I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was the devil, a bad spirit and he was the colour of clouds at sunrise’, said Warlimpirrnga in the 2007 interview.

The nine nomads were persuaded to travel to the community at Kiwirrkurra where they were reunited with their extended family. Tull reports that the nomads ritually beat their extended family for not having brought them in from the desert earlier. They were found to be in excellent health. Up to that time they had lived a traditional life hunting wild life, such as goannas, rabbits and other bush food.

This photo taken soon after they arrived at Kiwirrkurra shows the close knit family: the young Tjapaltjarri brothers, Walala, Warlimpirrnga and Yari Yari and Tamlik Tjapangati (now referred to as Thomas Tjapaltjarri), the three Napaltjarri sisters, Takariyia, Yardi and Yiultji and the two mothers Nanyanu and Papalanyany. The sisters and brothers were estimated to be in their teens or early twenties and their mothers were in their late 30’s. The father, the husband of the two women, had died a few months earlier and the females had cropped their hair as a sign of mourning.

From this remarkable story, Walala, Warlimpirrnga and Thomas have emerged as artists of international fame. All seven children and one of the mothers are still alive. With the exception of Yari Yari who has returned to a nomadic life, they have adjusted to a vastly different life, living in Kiwirrkurra in Western Australia, other remote desert communities and in Alice Springs in Central Australia.


Aboriginal word glossary