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Ninuku regionSpinifex People and Spinifex Country


The Spinifex people, or Pila Nguru, are Aboriginal people whose traditional lands are situated in the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia, adjoining the border with South Australia, north of the Nullarbor Plain. Their 'common' name comes from Spinifex grasses, which are the dominant feature of the landscape in this desert region.

The Spinifex Arts Project was established in 1997 as part of a Native Title Claim in which the traditional owners of the Spinifex Country sought and secured title over their lands. During preparation of the land claim, artists recorded their connection to their country in the form of a series of large and magnificent paintings. From this experience, the artists have continued to express their close association with the Spinifex country.

The Spinifex People

The Spinifex People were dispossessed from their homelands in the Great Victoria Desert in the 1950s, when their country was selected for the Maralinga atomic testing which was carried out between 1952 and 1957 by the British and Australian governments.

During that time many of the people were moved to missions including Cundeelee and Warburton in Western Australia, hundreds of kilometres from their country. About 200 people were recorded as still being on the Spinifex homelands in the period 1955 to 1963, and most of these were moved on to mission settlements.

In the early 1980s Cundeelee mission closed. The Spinifex People were moved again to other lands before eventually settling at Tjuntjuntjara, a newly selected outstation camp in the south-western corner of Spinifex homelands.

Since establishing a secure living area within traditional lands at Tjuntjuntjara, the community has developed into a stable and important focus for the regional cultural cycles of Western Desert life. As the community has grown, people from throughout the region with traditional attachment to the area have returned to live at Tjuntjuntjara.

Once Tjuntjuntjara was established, the Spinifex Native Title claim was lodged in 1996 and plans for development of Ilkurlka Roadhouse were started. Ilkurlka is located in the centre of the Spinifex Native Title claim and is named after a nearby rockhole which is a major site in the Kalaya (Emu) story.

A Native Title agreement over the region was ratified by the Federal Court in November 2000. Celebrating the success of the land claim, the Spinifex People donated ten major paintings to the people of WA to be housed at the Western Australian Museum.

Having successfully negotiated the Native Title claim, the Spinifex people continue to record and document their traditional stories and traditional knowledge through the medium of acrylic painting on canvas.

Bush trips to local sites, birthplaces and Ilkurlka Outstation are still the main forums for producing paintings. Collaborative works are signature pieces for the Spinifex people and are keenly sought by collectors and institutions.

Spinifex Men's Native Title Painting
Men's Native Title Painting 1998

Up to eight senior men and women may work on separate collaborative works, painting Jukurrpa or sacred stories such as The Seven Sisters, Wati Kutjara, Karlaya story and many other stories from the wider Spinifex area. Individual works are also produced during such trips and all paintings are documented and photographed for the communities archive.

Over the last decade artists from the Spinifex Arts Project have held exhibitions in major cities around Australia and have also held three exhibitions overseas.

Work by artists of the Spinifex Art Project is available on our Spinifex Paintings pages.

Next: Spinifex Country


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