Name: Ngumarnu Norma Giles
Ngumarnu Norma Giles - desert roads, and painting [ORAL HISTORY]
Other Speaker/s: Kurltjunyintja Jackie Giles
Synopsis: Norma Giles talks about clothes in the desert, spearing marlu, and how there didn't use to be roads in the desert. She also talks about being schooled in Warbuton, how her parents died in Patjarr, and painting without a brush.
Language spoken: Nyaanyatjarra
Catalogue number: CSROH_63_Ngumarnu_Norma_Giles
Interviewed By: Tim Acker, John Carty
Transcribed By: Lizzie Ellis, Jan Mountney
Translated By: Lizzie Ellis, Jan Mountney
Location Recorded: Warburton
Cultural Protocols: Public Access - Restrictions on Use
Notes: This has been transcribed in language which is also available. This transcript is incomplete. There is some confusion between Tim Acker and John Carty here also. There are Notes added by translator Jan Mountney in square brackets. Some additions and changes were made to this transcript by Norma Giles when we sought permission on 29 May 2009, these changes have been incorporated into this transcript.
Full transcript: Norma Giles: We lived in the bush. My mother and father used to live in the bush on bush meat and bush foods. At that time we didn’t have any clothes. My father’s brother-in-law and aunties, Tjungupi, Marnupa and Dixon, used to go to my father and travel around with him. We all lived together with the brother-in-law and sisters and brothers. We used to walk around toward the east. We lived at Karilwara.
We walked around in this area and would go to the permanent water-holes. After the surface water dried up, we would go back to the permanent water-holes. These are the water-holes: Tarrtja, Nyinnga, all the permanent water-holes. Later on, after more rain fell, when there was lots of surface water, we would go back to where all that water was lying and hunt around in that area. We’d be living near Patjarr, Talala, Tika-tika. When the surface water dried up we would go back to the large permanent rock-holes. Then we would turn around and go north to Nyinnga and from there round to Mirlkarr, Puutjirritja, Taarntja, Rirruwa, Kunmarnarra, and Matjapurti. These were the places that we walked around.
When the older generation of my relatives were alive, we used to walk around in those places. When we were children we used to live off the meat that our fathers and mothers killed. We grew up eating kangaroo and emu. We used to kill the animals ourselves and eat them with my younger sibling Pukinna. We grew up on all that food from the land. We lived oblivious to white man and his world.
There were no roads. We lived there and saw when someone made a road and we were afraid because we’d never seen anything like it. When we first saw the road we all ran off to the bush in fright and we would peer out from behind the bushes. When we used to see a plane flying over, we would run into thick scrub and hide.
One day we were out and my uncle, Mr. Lawson, came and found us because we had set fire to the bush nearby. He came with that white man, Dr Gould. We would all – uncles, fathers, children – run and hide, and Dr Gould would try to track us but we would be in thick scrub.
Later on Dr Gould did catch up with us at Tjarltiwara. From there, we were taken to Warburton.
And at Warburton, I went to school and I grew up there, my brother Neil and I. I learnt English at school. I used to go to church. I drew pictures and listened. At first, having just come from the bush, we couldn’t understand anything. They would say, ‘Hey, you two children, come here.’ We would get scared because we didn’t know. So we would run to mum and dad in fright and say, ‘mummy and daddy, they were talking about you.’ But we just made it up because we didn’t know. I thought they were going to grab us and choke us. But they only wanted us to go to school.
We stayed there going to school. We were there long before all these trees around the Warburton community were planted. We lived there for a long time with our families. One of my brothers passed away, along with my sister and mother. We lost many of our family members.
We were there for a while and we heard talk that someone was going to build a road back to our home. Lots of people agreed with the idea and all the old people got very happy and said, ‘Yes, make a road and go back to your own Country.’
And they did it. I was part of the group of people who made the road. I had only one child, Stephen, at that time. My father and the rest of the people, many of whom have passed way, made the road all that way to Patjarr. And my father said, ‘Yes, let’s go back and live there’.
They used to still follow us and give us stores and rations. Damian, Alwyn and Mr. Porter were the ones who brought those things and gave them to us. And these ones here used to be young children, without spouses. They played football and went hunting. We used to show them how to cook kangaroo, how to gut it and how to kill it correctly. We would say, ‘If you learn, after we are gone you’ll be able to cook kangaroo and give it to your sons and daughters’.
We continued working on the road and then the army gave us army tents. We stayed there at Karilwara a long time and the food supply got low. I still had a little bit for the children. We would go home and put the food away. We kept living here. A bore for water was drilled. We kept living there and later on small houses were built and a little shop. Later still, a bigger shop was built.
While we were living there our oldest son got married. And Les was a young teenager. And my two daughters, who are younger again, that’s Maureen and Justine, were not married either. You know my daughter Justine – you saw her at Kiwirrkurra. She’s married to John-john West.
The small township of Patjarr kept getting bigger and we would say, ‘This is wonderful. We’re back here in our own Country, our traditional Country.’ Others used to say, ‘Let’s go back [to Warburton]’ and I’d say, ‘No. We made this road out here.’
My mother’s buried at Patjarr. And my father is also buried there. They had lived a long time and both passed away before the year 2000.
We were painting here in Warburton. Mr. Giles was the first one to start. We didn’t have a house. We spread the blanket and we started painting and many watched without knowing that he didn’t have experience. He kept doing it and I watched and watched and I learnt from him and started doing it myself. He was the first starting in Warburton. After here, we would go to Kurrkarturtu painting and would go even farther. It was the same as Ranges. They were painting amongst the grass. After a while they said, ‘No, let’s go back’. We were still painting in the open at Patjarr.
Then we decided to set up an art centre to be based at Karilwara, our family’s traditional home. We said it was good to open it at Karilwara. So we started and others watched and learnt. Mr. Giles was still painting. But he had no brushes. He only used his hands at the beginning. We started it and so we completed it and it was opened. And others watched and learnt. They used to watch our hands and how we painted and think, ‘How are they doing it with no brush, only hands!’
At the time we had no brush or anything. We used to use parts of mattresses and dip them in the paint. Others used to watch and say, ‘Ah, that’s wrong’.
Jackie Giles: Later the people at Warburton stated painting canvasses.
NG: We lived mainly off bush meat and food. The children didn’t have scabies. We lived a healthy lifestyle – bush tomatoes, desert raisins, woollybutt grass seed, rat tail seeds and other fruits and seeds. We had a variety of fruit and grains. We taught the children to collect woollybutt seed, grind them and make damper – all the girls. More recently, we would take them out bush and they still went to school. We took school kids out on bush trips, camping out. We taught them out there. I am no longer involved as all the children from my family have grown up.
It’s important to keep the community, the people and the land strong. Sometimes people don’t like a particular worker in an art centre and they want to get rid of him or her. And we say, ‘No, you can’t do that. We were the ones who started this and got the workers and we want it to be strong always. We want it to be run properly. Strong art centre – strong community. Working for money. We can’t set it up for nothing. When we do the painting and finish it we take it and give it [to the art worker]. This Kayili Artists will be here forever. Nobody can stop it and destroy it.’ I’ll say, ‘No! You can’t growl and send away workers. Where will you get another worker? If you growl they’ll ignore you.’
We gave it the name and Kayili Artists will be around a very long time and future generations will still be here painting. Children are still learning and will take it on when the grandfathers pass away. They will get happy and follow in the grandparents’ footsteps.
TA: What are you thinking?
NG: No! We feel good and paint happily. We, individually, think about what traditional stories to depict in our paintings. We think of a story and then paint the rock-hole for that story. Later we write the name of the rock-hole. The rock-hole is named such and such … like that. If you paint traditional Country and stories you have to be able to say which Country you have painted and the name[s] of the rock-holes too.
JG: We know all the names for all the rock-holes.
NG: You paint it because you know everything. You know because you as a child walked around in the Country and with your parents and grandparents drank from those rock-holes and later were taught the names of the rock-holes and their stories. They taught us their knowledge so that we could survive on our own after they had passed on. I know all my father’s country all the rock-holes which are his Country.
JG: That’s how we paint our Countries ourselves with our own knowledge.
NG: I haven’t lost all the names of the rock-holes – they are all here in my head. I think and paint the rock-holes where we lived with my parents. We lived in our Country. Then came to live here [Warburton]. Then after living here we went back to our traditional Country and painted our Country, always painting our Country. I have all the names of the rock-holes here in my head.
Sometimes you might say, ‘I’ve painted such and such rock-hole’. And others will say, ‘No you’ve painted such and such rock-hole [different name]’. We are always making sure that you paint the correct rock-hole that belongs to your families.
JG: Own Country.
NG: This is on the other side of Karilwara.
NG: Do you know of CALM [Conservation and Land Management]?
JG: I know.
NG: The information that we are talking about is in a book. We also teach the CALM staff (when in Country) about the rock-holes and the stories that belong to those rock-holes.
JG: We teach them about the various sweet nectars of the bush.
NG: We teach them [CALM] about my father and grandmother’s Country.
JG: We teach CALM about sweet grevilleas, acacia seeds which we used to make damper and bush tomatoes.
NG: This water has a name.
JG: I brought the CALM people out. We have all the knowledge in our heads.
NG: My grandmother used to eat bush tomatoes.
JG: Rat tail seeds.
NG: Bush plum.
JG: We know a lot about many things.
JG: Dreamings. Honey ants.
NG: Bush tomatoes and desert raisins.
JG: We also depict in our paintings the animals of our Country, all the many dogs and dreaming stories.
NG: Now! This is what we also hunt and forage for: honey ants, goanna, native cat, emu and kangaroo. When as a child, I would hunt something and kill it. You learn to be a hunter. All the rock-holes that are scattered around in our Country all have names. If you do a painting, your painting and the information relating to your painting will be recorded in a book.
On my paintings I depict these water-holes: Tarrtja, Nyinnga, Mirlkarr, Puutjirritja, Taarntja, Rirruwa, Warnturrankunytja, Kunmarnarra, Purntalka, Matjapurti, Nyinantu and Papakumpili. All these water-holes are in the bush. I lived there with my parents as children, with my children’s grandparents. My children are Paul, Steven, Les, Maureen, Justine, Cedric, Terry and Morris. My children’s grandparents used to drink the water from the above named water-holes. My children know these water-holes as they have driven to these places [in cars] on many occasions to their great-grandparents, grandparents and uncle and aunties countries.
JG: We thought about building the road.
TA: Which way?
JG: This way to [Well] 33.
TA: What do the whitefellas think of your paintings?
NG: Good. The whitefellas say, ‘It’s good painting’, especially if the design is very good.
JG: We have sent the paintings everywhere and many people know about them now.
TA: Do you think …
NG: Yes I’m going to say this … Michael says, ‘Ooh it’s a lovely painting’. This is when the painting is done in the
proper way. You also have to name the Country that you have painted.
TA: Do you think they understand that Country where it comes from?
TA: They see it’s really strong?
TA: Do you think they understand that Country where it comes from?
NG: Yes. They know.
TA: You know, but …
NG: They see that it is a special one. She likes it, when we paint our Country. We think before we paint and then we paint our family’s country the Countries of Kiwirrkurra, Yumari and Muyin.
JG: Uncle’s Country.
NG: It’s uncle Country there.
JG: My Country.
NG: They’ll say, ‘That’s really good, very clever man/woman’. Yes, we think and paint it because we know. We know our Jukurrpa, also they’ll say, ‘You’ll get a good present to Jackie Giles’. They say to Jackie Giles, ‘You’re number one painter, the best’.
JG: I have a big canvas.
NG: That is how they say it properly. They then say, ‘Hey!’
JG: Whitefellas will hear it.
NG: I say to the whitefella, ‘Are you taking the old people?’ I speak up confidently.
[TA asks JG a question about a man he supposedly knows. Mr. Giles doesn’t answer the question. What he does say is already in the main dialogue.]
Video recording: 149 KAYILI ARTISTS JACKIE & NORMA GILES
Rights: Cultural Owner & Storyteller: Ngumarnu Norma Giles; © FORM, transcript only
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.