Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Warri and Yatunngka of the Mandildjara Aboriginal Tribe

Warri and Yatunngka in their camp at Ngarinarri

There are probably only a few stories in a life time that truly move you - and stay with you for the rest of your life. For me, this is one of them.

In the nineteen thirties, two aboriginals of the Wandildjara tribe, Warri and Yatunngka, fell in love. They belonged to different skin groups and, as such, were prohibited by tribal law from being together. Contravening this law could result in physical injury or death.

So Warri and Yatunngka left their settled urban tribal group with its contact with the imposed European culture, and for the next forty years lived a traditional hunter/gatherer nomadic life around the Gibson Desert of Western Australia. Bearing two sons at one of the water holes in the desert.

Gibson Desert in Western Australia

Over the years, there was occasional news of the couple. Tribal elders forgave them. And so with the great drought of 1977 and fearing for their safety, a tribal elder and friend, Mudjon, encouraged Dr William Peasley to detour from his annual exploration of the route of explorer and gold prospector David Carnagie to search for Warri and Yatunngka.

Mudjon, elder of the Mandildjara people and friend of Warri and Yatungka

Peasley was later to write a book of this experience 'The Last of the Nomads' (1998). And there was to be a grainy 16mm film shot by the search party, 'The Last of the Nomads' (1998).

This film was my first contact with Warri and Yatunngka's extraordinary and moving story.

Footage shows the search party finally spotting smoke on the distant horizon. And Mudjon walking across the barren desert towards it.

After an interminable wait, two tiny figures appear and slowly walk ... out of the Stone Age and back into the C20. Shattering. And I'm guessing this scene is what moved indigenous film-maker Glen Stasiuk to say he was 'inspired by seeing footage from the original search party'.

Warri and Mudjon walking out of the Desert in 1977

The couple were emaciated and barely alive - Warri had a leg injury and could not longer hunt.

Warri Kyangu of the Mandildjara

Yatungka of the Mandildjara

In the footage that followed, Warri and Yatungka seemed terrified - on so many levels. They lived back in town ...

Warri, sick and miserable at the camp near Kata Kata

... with Warri dying in 1979, and Yatungka, then refusing to eat or drink, dying shortly after.

Glen Stasiuk's inspiration of Warri and Yatungka's story lead him to make 'Footprints in the Sand' (2008). With the involvement of one of the couple's sons, Geoffrey 'Yullala Boss' Stewart. Who had lived with his parents in the desert till his teen years. It was shown for the first time at the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival in Sydney.

Indigenous Film-Maker Glen Stasiuk

Of making his film, Stasuik says it was 'a privilege to go to a remote location and share the experience of their spirit and their ancestors ... [it's] ... a reminder ... or who we are and where we come from'.

And, as he says, it's so important for 'an indigenous voice to be heard'.

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