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'Natawalu' by Mayapu Elsie Thomas, 2007


'Natawalu' by Mayapu Elsie Thomas, 2007

Object information


"At Natawalu an Aboriginal man speared a kartiya [white man], then that kartiya got a rifle and shot him. Right [at] Natawalu. Before there was a well there. That's the place I painted now. He was just coming to get water ... then he saw that kartiya. He speared him then, near the water." [Mayapu Elsie Thomas]

The Canning Stock Route story revolves around water. To colonists, desert water was a commercial resource necessary for a successful stock route. To the people of the desert, these waters were the social, spiritual and economic bases of their existence. The wells built by Alfred Canning, therefore, became sites of conflict between cultures. Conflict on the stock route was also triggered by, and in response to, the men who made the wells, and the drovers who came to use them. During Canning's return to Wiluna in 1907, a member of his party, Michael Tobin, was fatally speared at Natawalu (Well 40). In the same moment Tobin shot and killed Mungkututu, the Aboriginal man who had speared him. To this day, the reasons given for this incident are varied. One account says that Tobin had taken Mungkututu's wife, while another says that it was revenge for the theft of sacred objects by Canning's men. Mungkututu may have been frightened by Tobin, afraid of being chained up, or angered by the uninvited intrusion of strangers at his waterhole. Whatever the cause, in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal histories, the incident has come to symbolise the clash of cultures that defined the early days of the Canning Stock Route. Mungkututu was a family member of the artist.

Other records of this event in the historical or oral historical records:

"One blackfella been coming along from Kurrkumalu. He been see, 'Hello somebody there'. Kartiya [white man] been reading book. Right, he been hookem up [spear] now, rip 'em. Kartiya been look around for revolver... bang! Same time they finished. Two [of] them finished there poor bugger." [Whyalla Jindibee]

"We saw a native running towards us fully armed. He was watching Tobin all the time ... and just as the native moved with his spear Tobin raised his rifle and fired just after the native had discharged his spear which entered Tobin's right breast. The native fell ... " [Alfred Canning, evidence given to the royal commission, 1908]

Physical description

A painting on canvas with a blue circle in the centre with white and green tree-like motifs radiating around the edge, as well as one blue and green rectangle and a green and black oval shape. The central image is on a background of green overlaid by a square of red with a yellow border. The text at the bottom left corner reads 'MET/147/MJ', a measurement at the bottom reads '90 x 120' and along the side reads '120 x 90'. Text on the back of the canvas reads 'Elsie Thomas / 716/07 / Mangkaja Arts / 90 x 120' and 'Elsie Thomas / 9/0'.

Statement of significance

The Canning Stock Route collection is comprised of 125 works and includes paintings, drawings, baskets, boomerangs, coolamons, headdresses, carved figures and shields.

The Canning Stock Route is a no-longer-used cattle droving route that traverses the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts of central Western Australia. Comprised of 48 wells along an 1800 kilometres stretch of track, the route links Wiluna in the south with Sturt Creek in the north and traverses the traditional lands of nine Aboriginal language groups. The route was founded in 1905 when Alfred Canning was commissioned to investigate a route suitable for the droving of 500 head of cattle, with water sources spaced at intervals of no more than one day's walk apart. Although Canning's map records observations of the land and water resources, it makes no mention of Indigenous places and their associated meanings which the route traversed. This collection, composed of 'painting stories', sculptural works and oral histories, re-dresses Canning's omission and records the impact of the stock route on Indigenous lives and country. A six week journey with traditional owners held in July and August of 2007 inspired the artworks, many of which were produced during the journey, and provided an opportunity for more than 70 senior and emerging artists to reconnect with traditional lands..

Object information

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