Putuparri Tom Lawford
Putuparri Tom Lawford - effects of the Canning Stock Route [ORAL HISTORY]
Synopsis: Putuparri Tom Lawford talks about the effects the Canning Stock Route had on the Aboriginal communities who lived in that area.
Art centre(s): CSR Project, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre
Catalogue number: CSROH_295_Putuparri_Tom_Lawford
Cultural Protocols: Public Access
Full transcript: Nicole Ma: So Tom, can you tell us a little bit about this Country? What it is to you? Putuparri Tom Lawford: This Country is Walmajarri Country. NM: You know your relationship to this Country, what used to be here? TL: I think it’s on my grandfather’s side I think. Grandfather used to travel up around here. Nyarna, a place called Nyarna. Most of the people who are living here other then my family. NM: And what did they used to do around here? TL: I don’t really know much about this Country, I don’t know what, back at the Goollong [?] area. NM: Coming on this trip, you know you have seen these wells, what do you think about that? TL: Good, yeah. Because all them wells, like I’ve been hearing the stories from old people talking about that Country. I’ve been hearing stories like when I was a kid. It like remind, bring back memories from them old people telling me stories. Most of them all dead. But where they used to roam. Meet other groups of people, other tribe. NM: So what did they used to do around here? TL: Well, there used to be free before roaming around till someone came around and started pastoral companies, bringing cattle in. And made them work for nothing. Building yards. NM: And what do you think about the Canning Stock Route, did it have an effect? TL: Yeah, yeah, it had an effect on people. It mainly people went everywhere and people went to Wiluna, family went to Wiluna another family come up this way. You got that artist from Tennant Creek. He from Dongara and he ended up in Tennant Creek from the Canning Stock Route. NM: So did it mix everything up? TL: Yeah, it mixed everything up. Families, you know, all got drifted apart, a long way apart. All because of a lousy stock route just to take cattle from here to Wiluna. NM: So as you came along here how did you feel about it? TL: Mainly looking at them wells. Them wells, they’ve been put in there by the Alfred Canning. But them wells were there before he ever existed. Aboriginal people knew about that water a long time before he came onto the scene. Without them people there wouldn’t be a Canning Stock Route. Because, he, I don’t know somehow forced them people to show him where the water was. So he made, shutting them up, starving them for water and let them go and track them. NM: So before that happened what was going on? TL: Brother was living in harmony. And along came this buddy with a big idea of opening up that Kimberly from here to Wiluna. Fuck everything up. NM: Could you talk a bit about what water means? TL: What it means is. Water is. Especially out there in the desert, it’s important because it’s a dry Country, you know, and people need the water to survive on hot days especially on a drought, people know where there is living water. On a good season there is rock holes, you know hills, soak water, but the main water was the other one that people used to hang on. NM: Can you explain a bit about living water? TL: Living water is like a story like in Dreamtime before snakes, they talk about rainbow serpent snakes and in Dreamtime they were human. They would travel around the Countryside making songs and stories and then they turned into a snake and get into the ground that where the water is, living water. Jila, we call him jila. NM: So that’s what you call living water? TL: Jila, living water yeah, jila. NM: So what happens if someone who doesn’t know the water comes to the water? TL: If you’re a stranger come through, stranger yeah, I don’t know. They probably get killed or eaten or something. Well there’s a snake in the water. Ah, but a lot of people out there they know what to do, you know? Other people who walk into another place they get a stone or chuck sand into the water or get a stone and rub it in their armpit. Chuck it in the water. And then they drink the water. NM: Then it’s okay? TL: Yeah. NM: But a lot of people don’t know how to do that? TL: Yeah, not these things. NM: And then what do you think happens? TL: I don’t know, there might be rain or be wind storm. NM: So when Canning came here he didn’t know any of these stories? TL: Nothing, he didn’t know where the water was. He wouldn’t know where to go. So the only way he knew where to go was to get guards, Aboriginal guards and chain them up. Give them tobacco anything just to pay them and get them to show him where the live water was. NM: So that couldn’t have been too good for the communities? TL: Well, because, yeah, he gobbled up, some water was sacred to people like Well 35, it’s sacred really, sacred to that mob up there. Other mob. Like some place that’s sacred to us but he didn’t give a shit. He wanted water. NM: Do you think they would have tried to avoid telling him? TL: At the time them guards didn’t know any English, only water. Only water, kapi, he keeps them kapi, he shows them where the water was. Only way he know where the water was he get them salt meat and starved them for water. And let them go and follow their tracks. Then water there. NM: So it must have been a big shock for all. Can you talk about all of the different Countries? TL: Yeah, all of them, like the people that were taken are from other tribe, gone into unknown area for them because the barrier was halfway. And he even take them in. Taking them into another area boundary for other language tribe. NM: But that map doesn’t show that on there. TL: That map doesn’t show that. If you go into another boundary a different boundary. You get killed you get speared. NM: So when that road started they must have got a bit of a shock? TL: Yeah, they got a shock. No road really only just cattle travelling through. Through every waterholes. NM: ‘Cause you come from a big, can you tell us a bit about your background? TL: My father is a cattleman, horseman. He used to take cattle from Christmas Creek to Derby. Or sometimes to Broome. He didn’t go up this track the Canning Stock route. He did that, Christmas Creek to Derby of Broome. NM: And is your family very involved in it too? TL: Yeah, we got a cattle station back home. The only person who is driving cattle out is a big truck, yeah a big truck driving cattle. On a bitumen highway. Them days are gone, horse taking cattle to other places. NM: And did that change things when that happened? TL: Yeah, it changed things, people got no. It made people feel lazy because no, they used to be real hard worker in those days. Been hards, waking up sunrise facing sundown riding all day. Not like this machine they just lay back you know. They just get on the piss and that’s it. NM: So do you think when the trucks came in that a lot was ... ? TL: It put them out of the business. They had drover, all drovers lost their job driving cattle. Even horsemen. Nowadays you don’t see anybody on horse mustering. You see this horse on the sky. Helicopter. NM: So what does that mean for your community? TL: Well, you got to pay more money for that horse in the sky. For fuel and his hours for flying up. Whereas when you’ve got your man on the horse on the ground. It don’t cost much, just pay the wages. But with the helicopter you have to pay the fuel pay the hours and everything. A lot of money. NM: What about jobs? TL: Jobs. NM: Are many people losing jobs? TL: Yeah, people losing jobs. NM: Is that why they are going into town? TL: In our other place we just use chopper now and then but not most of the time. We got horses. We go on horseback. Do what our father used to do. NM: So how do you feel, the difference between being here and in your Country? TL: I like it here, I like the bush. I think that’s where I belong really. We be outside on the ground you can see the stars. Because when you go in the town there’s nothing, cars, lights, drunks. But what I really wanted to see was the young people on the trip. So they can learn about their Countr,y their, area, where they come from. Or their grandparents. Father, mother, come from. NM: Why is it important? TL: It’s important because they are going to be the future some day. And all of the old people, what we have now, they won’t be here too long. One day they will leave us and they gotta carry on their stories, Dreaming and things like that. Is that what them will do. Listen and start going out on these kind of trips. NM: What do you think will happen when you lose all of the old people? TL: I think it will be sad. If only a couple of people like me going out on these trips is that enough? You don’t need one person you need plenty. The more the better. NM: So you think you need to get them out here? TL: Yep, anywhere you know. Not just on the Canning Stock Route. Where their um ... where their grandfathers come from. Grandparent come from. So they can learn their story. Well me I’ve been everywhere, [XX] back, [XX] back. I know from my stock. NM: So can you just explain what it is like for you going out there, for you? TL: For me, going out there for me is like I learn my culture and my history of my people. Where they come from, where they live. Where they work. And their stories you know. My grandfather told me stories. My nana told me stories about ... END
Rights: Cultural Owner & Storyteller: Putuparri Tom Lawford; © 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.