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Yuendumu shool doorsYuendumu School Doors


The people of Yuendumu in the early 1980s began transferring their traditional ochre ground paintings to canvas, and then to the doors of the Yuendumu School. In 1983, five artists, including Paddy Japaljarri Stewart, Paddy Japaljarri Sims and Roy Jupurrurla Curtis (other artists are deceased) painted thirty school doors with Dreaming designs, negotiating the content with other Warlpiri men and women who also collectively owned the designs. Twenty-seven Dreamings (tjukurrpa) were represented on the Doors, referring to more than two hundred sites in Warlpiri and Anmatyerre territory.

For thousands of years the Warlpiri people traced their Dreaming symbols onto compacted desert sand as part of their ceremonies and when the ceremonies were over the images would be brushed away by hand or by the desert winds. The Yuendumu doors have now captured these stories in paint.

Door number 4 (right) was painted by Paddy Japaljarri Sims and shows the story of old Dreamtime men preparing their boomerangs for battle. The shapes in the lower half depict axes and boomerangs, while in the upper half there are boomerangs, waterhole, snake and tracks of a falcon. As the old men hit each other with boomerangs, they turned into birds like falcons, hawks and kites and flew into the air. These are the birds that still appear in the sky today.

During the early 1980s much of the traditional country of Warlpiri people was only just becoming accessible to them again through the land rights process. By painting the Doors, the artists were expressing not only their link to that country but also their willingness to resume responsibility for those places.

The painted Doors were also intended to remind the Yuendumu schoolchildren of a web of sites and obligations extending across their country. The Doors remained at Yuendumu, resisting erasure for twelve years despite the desert wind and sun, and robust treatment from Warlpiri schoolchildren.

Yuendumu Door 4
Yuendumu Door Number 4
Old Men and Boomerangs

The entire series of Yuendumu Doors was acquired by the South Australian Museum in 1995 and then restored. Twelve of the best doors were selected for a travelling exhibition that toured Australia for three years; the Yuendumu Doors are now at the South Australian Museum.

In 1987, Warlukurlangu Artists in association with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) produced the book 'Kuruwarri: Yuendumu Doors'. This book features colour photographs, descriptions of the Dreamings in Warlpiri and English, iconographic explanations and maps.


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