The Traditional Tools - Life Tools (Tjilirra) Project partners CASSE with Aboriginal communities in Haasts Bluff (Ikuntji), Mt Liebig (Watiyawanu), Kintore (Walungurru) and Papunya (Warumpi) in Northern Territory, in collaboration with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Pamela Nathan and Anne Kantor travelled to the four communities in January and were introduced to men on country by Jamie Millier (Project Officer on the Tjilirra Project) and Martin Juggadai (ngangkari) from the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). David Beveridge from RFDS was unable to join this trip due to official road closures. All three men are well known and respected in these communities and are full of local knowledge, enthusiasm and energy. They each have different skills and have lived and worked out west for years in kinship with the people. Martin lives in Haasts Bluff (Ikuntji)
and has worked alongside David for seven years. Travelling the vastness of the desert landscape together, so green after the rains, purple ranges becoming fire red as dusk set, found a home in everyones' minds, opening up new territories and blazing new, red trails. “From little things big things grow” sang Anne one morning at breakfast.
Tjilirra (traditional handmade tools including boomerangs, shields, spears, carrying vessels) are the cornerstone of the ancient traditional world of the Pintupi men. Sacred traditional tool carvings hold the power to the country. Tjukurrpa (the Dreaming), the Tingarri (the Dreaming story for the Pintupi), hold the meaning and the life for them, reinforcing relatedness, sorrow and country. Tjilirra represents ancient law, land-ownership, and the carvings hold the journeys of ancestral beings and sacred places in the landscape and more.
On this trip Pamela and Anne experienced the urgent need of the Elders to give Tjilirra to the young men - a need which is life or death for cultural survival and their humanity. The young male initiates of the past could not survive in the bush without Tjilirra. Today Tjilirra, in the form of this project, will save lives and change minds of young and old men. The Tjilirra is the title or deed for the country of the men. Tjilirra is the power for the men. They have kept it sacred and secret for over 100 years. The paintings they say have no power. The Tjilirra
has power. One can feel the power when talking to the men. The timeless power is not yet lost. It is living and breathes life and continuous relatedness into the men. It is like rain for country; the country after rain so vibrant, pulsating and green.
Pamela and Anne travelled over 600k on the first day of the trip, meeting men at Haasts Bluff (Ikuntji) and seeing some amazing traditional tools made by Martin and his brother Walter, arriving at Kintore (Walungurru)
at dusk. The men wanted to talk to Martin and Jamie immediately about the project. Forty men gathered - Lindsay Corby, Geoffrey Zimran, Joseph Jurra Tjapaltjari, Simon Butler Tjakamara, Jo Young and many, many more. Big men’s ceremonial business was happening at Kintore (Walungurru). The next day at a meeting at the business camp Pamela and Anne met senior traditional men (and women) that Pamela had worked with over thirty years ago. They took Jamie and Martin to their traditional tools museum. The men were enlivened and proud talking about their tools and the making of them, customary law, ceremonial business and mentoring of the youth. Thirty years ago the video 'Settle Down Country' was made of Kintore (Walungurru)
by the people, about the people and for the people. They said they want to make Part 2 of Settle Down Country. (Settle Down Country can be viewed via the CASSE TV page on our website.)
That night Pamela and Anne travelled through amazing country to Mt Liebig (Watiyawanu)
and the next day visited Papunya (Warumpi). They had a meeting with the elder Long Jack Philipus Tjakamarra, an original Tula artist. Jamie, suddenly left the meeting and rummaged in the V8 four-wheel drive, emerging with some rusty old tools of chisel, tomahawk and so on. He gave them to Long Jack in an act of generosity and kinship. Long Jack was overjoyed and kept looking with disbelief and delight at these old rusty tools, worth only about $150. Martin beamed and nodded in approval. Long Jack, then inspired, picked up his spear thrower and held it with pride. He told his wife to go and get his spears. He told them about the payback spear. He showed them how to throw a spear. Martin spoke about the one with a barb - the only way out being right through the thigh. He showed them the kangaroo sinew at the end of the miru, the ingenious leaf-shaped spear thrower made from
mulga. Long Jack said he was going to be busy making tools in the next months.
On this trip Pamela and Anne experienced the fact that the tools are not merely tools or weapons - they are Tjilirra, the Tjukurrpa, the Tingarri, the essence of life, living, relatedness and emotional world and the bedrock of country, ancestral past, present and future and therefore the core of Aboriginal being. CASSE is privileged to be able to walk and work alongside the Pintupi people, affirming and recognising their humanity and learning from them.
We thank Sutton Tools and Peter Sutton for his generous sponsorship of simple tools for the men to make the traditional tools.
We are seeking sponsorship for the V8 Toyota Four-Wheel drive for the duration of this project. If you know of anyone that may be interested in assisting, please call Pamela Nathan on 0417 567 114.
CASSE will meet with the Remote Jobs and Communities Program (RJCP) in Alice Springs this month to discuss a collaboration/partnership on the project. The RJCP supports people to build their skills and get a job or to participate to their capacity in activities that contribute to the strength and sustainability of communities.