Name: Ngarralja Tommy May
Ngarralja Tommy May - Kurtal, Kaningarra and the Canning Stock Route [ORAL HISTORY]
Other Speaker/s: Ngilpirr Spider Snell, Jukuja Dolly Snell
Synopsis: Tommy talks about his painting Kurtal and Kaningarra, and tells the Jukurrpa story of these two. Tommy and Spider Snell talk about taking care of these two jila today, and who is left to look after Kurtal and Kaningarra. He talks about seeing bullock for the first time near Well 42. He talks about cultural and law boundaries throughout the Canning Stock Route Coutry and how kartiya doen't know about thes boundaries.
Language spoken: Kriol, English
Catalogue number: CSROH_27_Ngarralja_Tommy_May
Interviewed By: Nicole Ma; ABC 7.30 Report reporters
Transcribed By: Monique La Fontaine
Recorded by: Nicole Ma; ABC 7.30 Report
Location Described: Kurtal, Kaningarra
Location Recorded: Nyarna, Lake Stretch
Cultural Protocols: PUBLIC ACCESS - RESTRICTIONS ON USE
Notes: Recorded by Nicole Ma with ABC 7.30 Report/ Landline. It is likely the male reporter asking questions in this footage is David Mark. There were notes and corrections made to this story when the permission was gathered on 3 September 2008, these notes have been included in this transcript.
Tommy May: Yeah, right through.
Nicole Ma: And what do you remember about this place from before?
TM: Yeah, this place right. We walked from desert, we been right around here, all around, when I was a kid. With my mother and my uncle. One of them, his father for Tax, Richard Tax. He up in Halls Creek, eh. Old people home. Richard Tax. That’s my cousin brother. He from this Country too. I know all of his family around in Balgo and here.
NM: What do you remember before the Stock Route came?
TM: Ah, that stock road I know is before all that, whitefella, kartiya [white man] bloke in the road been just, still I reckon only lately. That road been put, [by] all those Canning mob, whoever been working on that road, lately. But we trust this bloke. Dreamtime. That really true. And before it used to be blackfella Country, they used to walkin to Kurtal and walk to, what that place um, Kulyayi, or way down another place too. They was walking down, all around, walk around. See? Before that Canning Stock Road. That Canning Stock Road they been only put it lately. Still, lately, name. It wasn’t Canning Stock Road before. Before was a, now can’t drovin there. Nothing. Before that drovin, still lately. I say only yesterday. Before was just nothing: blackfella Country. Soakwater, jila [spring], jumu [ephemeral water], rockhole, that area.
NM: And now what?
TM: Now it’s Canning Stock Road now. For anybody to use. That camel man been working for the well, still lately. Before, these two man [pointing to painting of [Kurtal and Kaningarra], Dreamtime stories and before used to be blackfella Country this.
NM: Ngarralja, when you were a little kid in your Country what stories did you hear about the stock route?
TM: Still, I heard the cattle drovers still, but nother mob tell me jila [ancestral being, spring] side still very important Dreamtime stories really. Yeah. Dreamtime for jila, all of those stories. What jila been living in there, anywhere, in the hill or rocky Country. Dreamtime was before that, that really true. And this two person was a really true. Before, early days when I been a kid, might be before I been born, these two waterholes they been looking after, cleaning all the time. They, this mob [Kurtal] they used to come down to this mob, Kaningarra, Kaningarra. I know these people for that side, for old people. That’s the looking after Kaningarra. Keep it clean and sometime make it rain. That same two for that thing, story.
NM: It’s that old man. [Spider Snell sits down]
TM: Yeah. He know these stories, two, these two [Kurtal and Kaningarra jila].
Spider Snell: [asks question in language, nganayi]
TM: No, purrku [husband], Kurtal and Kaningarra
SS: Yeah, Kaningarra, Kurtal.
TM: [pointing] This one Kaningarra, Kurtal.
SS: [pointing] Kurtal here, Kaningarra there.
TM: That’s the one we sing and dance with these two. Anytime. For KALACC [Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre], KALACC …
SS: [pointing to Kaningarra?] Shut him up, this one shut him up today, no more …
TM: No more today, nothing.
SS: No juju [song and dance] [gestures wide distance] juju, might be. [Speaks in language.]
TM: No more Kaningarra, no Kurtal, nothing.
NM: No more?
SS: Mm, all in Bayulu, what name [meaning sorry camp] ...
TM: Someone passed away in Fitzroy.
SS: Yuwayi [yes], Jakarra [Skipper].
TM: No more this one song.
SS: They been shut him away, leave it.
TM: Some day they can dance after one year, over.
SS: Only, any time [language], wati kujarra [two men] for Kaningarra there, Kurtal …
TM: This one [Kaningarra] he got no really boss. No one looking after properly. That jila [ancestral being, spring], cleaning up.
NM: No one’s looking after it?
TM: Yeah. This one [Kaningarra]. This one right [Kurtal].
[Both men pointing with their sticks]
SS: Oh, boss, right. [speaks in language] ... ngaju [points to Kurtal] this one boss [I’m the boss for this one].
TM: For this place, this place used to be before, keep it clean. Old people, jila people.
NM: [XX – indecipherable, referring to young people for Kaningarra?]
TM: They don’t know nothing. He lost that water hole. People used to live there. Kurtal help clean that special way. Very sad.
Dolly Snell: Ah, yawi [poor thing].
SS: Wayampajarti, nganayi [what’s this one]… Nyirla, Yawul [near Kaningarra] Wayampajartu [drawing in the sand] …
TM: No, these two [pointing to painting].
SS: Yeah … [XX – in language] make, Kurtal. I been shut him up.
[Dolly stands between the two men.]
NM: Dolly sit down, sit down. [Spider tells Dolly to sit in language]
[Dolly moves to left of Spider.]
NM: Stay there! [In the middle]
DS: No, I sit down here [looks at painting, camera moves to include her.]
TM: Story I did for all that road, well, putting well, still after, lately. These two first, Dreamtime. Jukurrpa [dreaming]. All of the Jukurrpa. Dreamtime, stories. And people used to walk up and down in the blackfella Country before, no worries.
SS: [In language: I took Kurtal dance to America and all around the world, everywhere. Dolly interjects and revises his story, he laughs and continues, Dolly adds to it.]
NM: Spider, do you know any stories about the Canning Stock Route?
SS: Yuwayi [yes], that one all the way.
TM: My story is finished.
SS: I’m have to go stock road, stock road any time, go. Yangurta time [XX] yawarta [horse] time.
[Dolly speaks in language referring to Tommy having made the painting they’re looking at.]
TM: My mother been taking me around here when I been a kid. To this place and this place, no worries. Show me waterhole, names.
Male Reporter: Tell me what Country you were in when you first saw the bullocks and the drovers?
TM: Ah, near Kurtal Country. Come from Kurtal to Canning Stock Route just for walk around with George Lee father, Ned Jamili. Way down desert, yeah.
Male Reporter: Were you just a boy?
TM: Yeah, me and my brother.
Male Reporter: What did you think when you saw them?
TM: See all the dust, drovers from here, and we come across for meat, for bullock. We knew some family was there. [Laughs] Married some fella, they want a tobacco, old people. That niki niki [tobacco] init? Kartiya [white people’s] tobacco.
SS: Yeah niki niki tobacco.
TM: Niki niki tobacco and flour might be, yeah.
Male Reporter: What did you think of the bullocks when you saw them the first time?
TM: No, I never come there. Frightened of big bullocks. I know one galloped at us near one place, another well the other side of Kulyayi. You might have come through, know that place? What they got here? 42. The Well. 42. Yeah, we been walk around there.
NM: You went there?
TM: Chasing all the rabbits. Did you see all the rabbits there? Rabbits, should be plenty there.
John Carty: Wallabi [Charlie Tjungurrayi] said there was a big mob but we never saw them. He said in that tali [sand hill] there …
TM: Scrub Country.
JC: Yeah, near the lake …
TM: Yeah, scrub Country [XX] place. [Film skips forward] No, no, no. [Skips forward again] Here in Balgo, and go back from Balgo to Lamboo Well there and from there we heading to another place. Through Fitzroy Crossing way. We was a kid. Lot of our people, old people, brothers, these days, brother, uncle they been already working in station. We couldn’t find anybody behind. [Chuckles] That’s why we went.
Male Reporter: So you left the Country?
TM: Yeah, but still now we think back to Kurtal. I been there now lately. Yeah.
Male Reporter: What County did you go to when you left?
TM: From here? Ah to Christmas Creek. Way down to long way to near Derby Country. Work around. Kid time.
Male Reporter: Was that when you where still a boy?
TM: Yeah, Meeda, Meeda Station. Man grow up there, ride a horse. Stock ringing job. Yep, wali, nyamu [that’s all, finished]. Yeah, me and my, I know, Richard Tax, he’s my really cousin brother. He from Kurtal Country.
SS: Desert country, Kurtal.
TM: Mariya janu [XX], he finish up in there in Halls Creek, yeah.
SS: Ngurra ngurra [Country, home is Kurtal].
TM: His Country is this place, Kurtal Country.
Karen Dayman: Ngarralja, do you still take your sons and Spider’s Grandsons back there now? You been doing ceremony at Kurtal and ...
TM: Yeah. Japeth [Rangie – Spider’s grandson], Thomas [May – Tommy’s son], they went.
SS: [In language] Japeth went there ...
TM: [smiling and pointing at Tom Lawford] This bloke was there too. [Laughs] Yeah, when that water was still full!
NM: But you said that no one is looking after it anymore?
TM: No, this place little bit [Kaningarra]. Not this place, we visit. When that no water we go a clean em this place [Kurtal]. He only shallow. He not, he ...
NM: You still wanna do that?
TM: Yeah, when he dried up. Might be dried up I don’t know.
SS: Might be dry or might be nothing ...
TM: It’s very important for us poor fella. It’s old people home there.
SS: All finish. Old people finish, langa this one there [Kurtal].
TM: Jila people. All the Lawa Lawa mob. You know Lawa Lawa?
SS: Lawa Lawa, this one father [pointing to Dolly] This one father, properly, Kurtal. And me too, but little bit outside me.
TM: That’s why you got no good road eh. To Kurtal. No you right. [chuckles]
NM: Do you want to get a road there?
TM: No, somebody might be come along behind eh, leave it quiet, eh. [To Nicole Ma:] Eh?
NM: Remember you asked me to build a road?
TM: Yeah. One time ago.
DS: You want to make it manga [girl]!
SS: Yeah, gotta make it.
TM: No nganayi [what], somebody might come along, tourist. Eh? Tourist, visiting, I reckon.
NM: To make a road they’ll all be there?
DS: All can’t visit em kartiya [white people] langa there you know, that jila [spring].
DS: Yeah but one side where there might be, nother road.
TM: Not from other way.
TM: Kulyayi side they might be come from cross way.
NM: You know they can go from the Canning Stock Route?
TM: Yeah, easy.
SS: Only one side, Stock Road …
NM: Helena Springs and then they’ll find it.
TM: Yeah easy. And they make camp there, big camp.
SS: [XX - speaks in language, says they’ll have to grade it]
TM: There was one man. One man he must be been running around there, one blackfella, in that Country, early days. That, who that bloke? Jangala bloke [Daniel Vachon] he was reading in the book eh. One Camel man come along, he had five camel I think.
TM: Carnegie. Carnegie, that’s the bloke eh. And he come, find that blackfella, walk around in the bush and kartiya [white man] want to find the water. Camel man eh.
And he saw that blackfella and he ask, ‘Any water?’ ‘Yeah, we know. I know, water here.’ He might be meet him in somewhere, other side eh. In Warla Country. Warla. He been ask for water, ‘Yeah, I’ll take you down to water.’ But he never tell him with English. I don’t know what he been do [chuckles] He might ‘Wiya nga katikunanta’ ‘I’ll show you.’ He might be take him to that Kurtal now. Show that big waterhole. They been stay there for five days. Story about there, camel man.
NM: Is that true?
NM: Carnegie was it?
TM: Yeah, his daughter init [isn’t it]?
TM: Helena, yeah. Man that, he had, now he lately, he’s name of, in that girl name now, that Helena Spring. Yeah. He had daughter behind, eh? Live.
NM: So he named that spring after his daughter?
TM: Yep, there now, Helena Spring.
[Film skips forward …]
TM: One been, might be one of them Lawa Lawa family, Lawa Lawa family, he been know that water. That kartiya [white man] couldn’t find water. And they been take him to that place, big water hole, [XX] he springing all the time see.
SS: Dead [?]
NM: Because why, why is it always dead [?], the water?
TM: No, he all the time, shallow thing, lotta spring water, lotta strong. He bubbling from under too. Under the gate [?] he in a good Country, not in hill, not in billabong, not in river, just in bush Country. Oh, you saw [to Nicole Ma, smiling] no, no, you never seen it properly, he was cover up [with water].
NM: Yeah, I haven’t seen it properly.
NM: Maybe next time.
TM: Yeah, next time when dry time. But dry time you not allowed to stop there looking at the waterhole, you gotta be bush. All the woman bush, he did it [pointing to Karen Dayman?] all this mob, only man work, only be man, one time. Right down, like sunset, when everything finish, someone gotta call you out, come to waterhole, come to that place. After all the work finish. They used to do that too before when I been a kid. Stranger, only for law really, really hard. You gotta have water in drum or jerry can or whatever. Karen’s right. Yeah. All for old people for. Really punish, punish[ing work] for young people, gotta learn that way.
NM: Where are all of the old people then?
TM: No they work. They in the waterhole, gotta be work all the time. Old people. Or young people. Got to work by all the skin group too. That water got a skin group. Law for that water. Kurtal story. Mm, yeah … Yeah, Kurtal he not far from ... [ends, tape skips forward]
Male Reporter: What do you think about telling these Aboriginal stories about the Canning Stock Route?
TM: Well there is, very important thing for early days, really. This thing about before that Canning road been put up that, whoever been workin’ camel, making the wells, still lately. Mmm. I reckon it used to be blackfella Country before. All the jumu [ephemeral water], jumu like soak water.
Male Reporter: Why do you think it’s important to tell these stories?
TM: They don’t know anybody. They might be, they might be … [tape skips forward]
… and nother one round here, but they gotta come careful way, you know. Respect nother elders in front. Come there they gotta learn different way. But there they used to have a business might be, kid time, he right. Marlulu [law – boy’s initiation time]. Whoever know the Marlulu. Law time. He right. Palya [good]. Not just walk in anyway. No. Danger.
JC: Do you think that today, like when you see the map you just see the one road Canning Stock Route, that’s all kartiya [white people] see, do you think kartiya understand those boundaries you are talking about now?
TM: No, nothing.
Male Reporter: How did that road change what you are talking about, the blackfella travelling out there?
TM: He change, still lately. Might be been a lot of law ground there. Dreamtime. Whoever been live there early days really. And they been just claim all other boundaries, and nother boundary. They don’t care about. No respect really. Nothing. No. That white kartiya law not like blackfella, no. Blackfella got to respect, respect nother people, nother tribe, other language. Old people good stories. Yeah. He right. Today, lately. Any whitefella can through any … [tape jumps forward]
People get killed over there. Yeah, from not crossing, too rough, come to that nother tribe, other side. Making trouble, something wrong. Get speared, yeah. Someone might be get sing, mad. That blackfella way, early days. You gotta respect elders there. Not too rough. Not walkin anywhere.
Male Reporter: Do you know stories about people being killed because of the Stock Route?
TM: Oh, not for, before that. Before that everywhere too. You can’t come to cross to law time there, now lately too. You come too rough there nother way, and they won’t like you. Too rough. They gotta come really careful or manners, respect, he alright.
Male Reporter: And today you got tourists going everywhere.
TM: Mixed. Don’t know where they go. That’s why all the law finish. Mm. Grog too much
SS: Mmm mm.
TM: Another thing, ganja, drink too much, lotta business still there for old people. Yeah. All the marninwarntikura law [women’s law] there. I been grow up in different old people. They was telling me story, don’t, not to be do that. My time. I used I used to live in young people or old people in the, we get them, not in woman mix, kid time. That’s where you learn, get all the idea here, learn you there. Come good people, careful. That’s it. Not mad way. Someday you get spear through you. Nulla nulla [speared] in the head.
Yeah. That’s it.
Provenance: This material is sourced from Ngurra Kuju Walyja — the Canning Stock Route Project, which was initiated in 2006 by FORM and developed in partnership with Birriliburu, Kayili, KALACC, Mangkaja, Martumili, Ngurra, Papunya Tula, Paruku IPA, Warlayirti and Yulparija artists and art centres.