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Balgo Hills (Wirimanu) art and communityBalgo Hills Art and Community

Gwion

Balgo Hills (Wirrimanu) is one of the most important Aboriginal art centres in Australia. The community is located on the northern edge of the Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts and is one of the most isolated of Australia's desert settlements.

Warlayirti Artists, the art centre cooperative in the community, promotes the rich and evolving work of the artists. Balgo artists are renowned for the brilliance of the colour and strong forms in their most frequently used medium of acrylic paint on canvas.

The community of around 500 people includes senior established artists such as Eubena (Yupinya) Nampitjin, Elizabeth Nyumi, Boxer Milner, Sam Tjampitjin, Helicopter Tjungarrayi and Tjumpo Tjapanangka as well as younger emerging artists such as Pauline Sunfly.

Balgo paintings are sought after by collectors and the artists have been included in the lists of "Australia's most collectable artists" published by the Australian Art Collector magazine.

Our Web site works closely with the Balgo Art Centre (Warlayirti Artists) to provide information about the art, artists and community, as well as to offer good quality paintings and prints. On this and linked pages, you can find information about

Sandy country south of Balgo
Country south of Balgo in the Great Sandy Desert

Balgo Hills (Wirrimanu) Community

Balgo Hills (Wirrimanu) Aboriginal community is located on the boundary between the Great Sandy Desert and the Tanami Desert of central and Western Australia. It is about 280 kilometres south-southeast of Halls Creek along the Tanami Track, and 830 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. For a sketch map of the region, click here (opens a new browser window). The present settlement at Balgo Hills began in 1964-65 as a Catholic Mission Station for the nomadic people, mainly Kukatja speakers, from the remote areas south and south-east of Sturt Creek.

The previous venture at "old" Balgo Hills, was begun in the 1940s twenty kilometres west of the present site. However, it had to be abandoned after twenty years because of the lack of reliable water.
Buildings at Old Balgo
Buildings at Old Balgo in the 1940s

In the late 1970s, the local people took over the running of the Balgo Hills Mission from the Catholic Church. Its name was later being changed to Wirrimanu Aboriginal Community, reflecting the importance of the Kingfisher Dreaming to the local people - but it is commonly still referred to as Balgo.

Most of the Balgo community speaks Kukatja, which is one of the Western Desert languages. It is the main means of everyday communication. Some of the many languages spoken at Wirrimanu are: Kukatja, Walmajarri, Jaru, Pintupi, Warlpiri and Kriol. Most of the adults are trilingual. General community meetings are conducted in Kukatja.

The population of Wirrimanu has fluctuated over the years. Family, cultural and social responsibilities and obligations mean that people often have to travel, resulting in a very mobile community. The current population is between 350 and 400, rising to as many as 500 according to season or major community events.

Access to the community is normally by road along the Tanami Track, when accessible (summer flooding of Sturt Creek is not uncommon), or by Charter plane. Entry conditions and permits apply.

 

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