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'Wilkinkarra Men's Camp', painted by Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra, 1975


'Wilkinkarra Men's Camp', painted by Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra, 1975

Object information

Physical description

An unframed painting on cotton duck. Depicts three sets of concentric circles. Centre is largest, with two crescent shapes jutting away from it between four sets of three black lines. Circles and lines painted black with brown dots. Background rendered in red with white dots and patches of black with brown dots, and black with yellow dots.

Educational significance

This acrylic painting depicts an episode in the travels of two men in the Dreaming. After making camp near a waterhole, the men lit a fire to flush out kangaroos. The men are shown in the centre of the painting eating kangaroo, surrounded by a vast area of burned-out clumps of shrubs and grasses. In presenting the image on the large canvas, the artist chose to reduce the size of the waterholes, men and spears to stress the loneliness of the two men camped in the bleak salt-lake country of Wilkinkarra (Lake Mackay). The painting is by Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra and measures 2,010 mm x 1,720 mm. This resource includes a line diagram illustrating the symbols used in the painting and a map showing sites of significance.

Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra (1932-) was one of the founding members of Papunya Tula Artists, and was its chairman in 1975 and again in the early 1990s. He is from the Ngaliya/Warlpiri language groups. During his childhood Tjakamarra and his family lived off their traditional lands before settling at Haasts Bluff when he was in his teens.

The Papunya artists explain that their paintings come from the Dreaming. Like the natural features that mark out the journeys of ancestral beings and the ceremonies that re-enact these journeys, the paintings are both part of the Dreaming and part of the physical world. Papunya artist Benny (Pinny) Tjapaltjarri says, 'The Dreaming is our explanation of how the landforms appeared. A Dreaming character would come along and stay at a place and then turn into a hill or stone. Sometimes his tracks would become a soak or perhaps a rock hole ... People were also created by the Dreaming. You see, we are all born from our mothers ... but we still come from the Dreaming ... the Dreaming came first'.

By painting the designs and stories that represent their particular Dreaming places, the artists assert their rights and obligations as Central and Western Desert landowners, entrusted with the ritual re-enactment of the events that occurred at these sites. As part of these ceremonies, elaborate ground paintings are constructed using a symbolic language of U shapes, concentric circles, journey lines and bird and animal tracks. This unique visual language is also used in designs painted on the skin, and is the same language made familiar by the Papunya painters.

The Western Desert art movement, which began at Papunya, is considered to be the genesis of contemporary Aboriginal art. Geoffrey Bardon, a young art teacher who worked at Papunya School from 1971 to 1972, is often credited as the founder of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, which was incorporated in 1972. He encouraged the senior men of the various language groups living at Papunya to develop ways of adapting their traditional art to Western materials.

The Australian Government played a crucial role in supporting the painting movement in the years following Bardon's departure from Papunya. In 1973 the Whitlam government formed the Aboriginal Arts Board, with members who were all Indigenous Australians. It fostered Aboriginal arts, literature, theatre, dance, music, painting and craft, and also provided grants for Aboriginal communities to employ managers and to help preserve and sustain Aboriginal culture, arts and crafts. Many large Papunya works were commissioned by the Aboriginal Arts Board during the 1970s as part of its exhibition program in Australia and overseas. This collection was transferred to the National Museum of Australia in 1990.

Object information

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