Kulatangku angakanyini manta munu Tjukurpa [Country and Culture will be protected by spears]

Accession Number AWM2017.912.1
Collection type Art
Measurement Unframed: 200 x 495.8 cm x 36 kg
Object type Painting
Physical description acrylic on linen
Location Main Bld: Orientation Gallery
Maker Baker, Alec
Barney, Eric Mungi
Carroll, Kunmanara (Pepai Jangala)
Cooper, Taylor
George, Witjiti
Kaika, Willy
Ken, Kunmanara (Brenton)
Ken, Kunmanara (Ray)
Stevens, Keith
Tjalkuri, Bernard
Tjilya, Thomas Ilytjari
Wikilyiri, Ginger
Wikilyiri, Mick
Williams, Kunmanara (Mumu Mike)
Young, Frank
Martin, Kunmanara (Willy Muntjanti)
Mungkari, Kunmanara (Peter)
Pompey, Kunmanara (Jimmy)
Place made Australia: South Australia, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, Nyapari
Date made 2017
Conflict Period 2010-2019

Item copyright: AWM Licensed copyright


There is a connection that Anangu [Western Desert language–speaking Aboriginal people] have with Country. It is one of the most important responsibilities looking after Country, protecting Country, and keeping Country safe. The Ancestors handed down this responsibility, and it is as important today as it was hundreds of years ago. It is a particular man that will risk his life for Country. Since the Boer War Aboriginal soldiers have fought alongside so many non-Indigenous soldiers, together with one goal to protect this Land. An ocean of blood has been lost for Australia.

Frank Young, Former Chair, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, 2017

This work of art reflects the importance of the earth, of our land, our common land, Aboriginal land, Australian land. More than 102,800 Australians are listed on the Roll of Honour, including First Australians. In the end, it’s about the defence of our land – Australia.

Dr Brendan Nelson, Director, Australian War Memorial, 2017

This painting was created by 19 senior male artists of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, commissioned by the Memorial to tell their story of Aboriginal Australians defending Country. The artists visited the Memorial in May 2017, where they located the Memorial in relation to traditional songlines from the APY Lands and Canberra’s role as a traditional meeting place for Aboriginal peoples. They gathered around the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, where Kunmanara (Mumu Mike) Williams, a senior artist and a Christian minister, said a prayer. “Everybody was really sad, but I was thinking that they [the soldiers] didn’t die for nothing. They were fighting for the land – land is very important,” he said. The artists were particularly moved by the story of William Punch, featured in the First World War Galleries. As a baby Punch was the sole survivor of a massacre of Aboriginal people in the 1880s. As an adult he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was wounded while fighting on the Western Front, and died a year later of pneumonia on 29 August 1917. Artist Witjiti George said Punch’s story made the old men cry: “If he was the last one from his mob that survived, that’s special. It means he’s a Ngangkari [powerful spirit].”

The 19 artists, who live in communities throughout the APY Lands, met in July 2017 at Nyapari, in the north-west corner of South Australia, to work together on the painting. Keith Stevens, a Nyapari traditional owner, described the importance of paintings like this for Aboriginal people defending land by passing on culture. “I’m living here because of the country that we look after, the Tjukurpa that our ancestors left, that our fathers left for us. We are telling the world that we’ve got our country, we look after our country, and that is why we are strong.” Reflecting on the significance of this work for the artists and their communities, artist Frank Young said: “We want to remember our ancestors who have passed. We want to remember those people because we know that in other places they went to war, they come back or they got killed fighting for country. This war memorial you fellas got, we want to do the same: remember our people, what they did, what they fought.”

The symbols in this painting represent the myriad and complex ways in which rock holes, trees, and the landscape are protectors of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) way of life. The Tjukurpa (ancestral law and culture) of the large central tree is a story of protection. The tree is a symbol of a wati (male) soldier, and it also houses the spirit of the ancestors who stay in the trees, protecting Anangu. The kulata (spears) are for soldiers to use, and refer to a history of warfare spanning tens of thousands of years. APY chairman Frank Young witnessed one of the last such skirmishes in the 1950s. “It was just like a big storm. We got down, and we saw these spears, like a really big cloud, moving together … We want to show whitefellas the way we fought for the country and are still fighting for the country.” The u-shapes indicate a family gathering of hunting and inma (song, dance, and ceremony). The central text in the painting,“Wati Tjilpie Tjutaku Angakakanyilpai Manta Munu Tjukurpa” translates as “The many men and old men hold and protect Country and Culture.”