Thomas Tjapaltjarri and his family group were amongst the last nomadic desert dwellers to leave the desert to join their kinsmen in the small settlements that had grown around the periphery of their homelands. They were named “the Last Nomads” and “the Group of Nine” when they appeared in the tiny community of Kiwirrkura in Western Australia in 1984.
When the family came in from the desert it was a momentous event. Until then they had remained isolated from their relatives who had chosen to leave their desert homelands twenty years earlier. The family group had roamed between waterholes around Lake Mackay, along the border country between Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Their diet was dominated by goanna and rabbit and bush-foods harvested from native plants.
The family group consisted of four brothers (Warlimpirrnga, Walala, Tamlik, and Yari Yari), three sisters (Yardi, Yikultji and Tjakaraia) and two mothers (Nanyanu and Papalanyanu). The boys and girls were all in their early-to-late teens, although their exact ages were not known; the mothers were in their late 30s.
The father had died, possibly from eating spoiled canned food that he found at an old mining camp. After this, the group travelled south to where they thought their relatives might be, as they had seen signs of smoke in that direction. They met up with a man from Kiwirrkura, but there was confusion, and the group fled north again while he returned to the community to alert others of their meeting. The community members came looking for the group, and quickly realised that they were nine relatives who had been left behind in the desert twenty years earlier.
Finally the community members travelled by vehicle to where the group was last seen, and tracked them for some time before finding them. After making contact and establishing their relationships, the Pintupi nine were invited to come and live at Kiwirrkura, where most of them still reside. Both Thomas Tjapaltjarri and Walala Tjapaltjarri took an interest in the painting movement that was happening around them, and established their names as artists painting the Tingari stories of their ancestral country. Aboriginal art status – Highly regarded artist.
Selected Art Exhibitions
2003 Pintupi – Major Works from the Western Desert, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2004 Travels of the Tingari – New Pintupi Works, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2011 Tjapaltjarri Brothers, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
2013 Landmarks and Law Grounds: Men of the Desert, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle WA
Hank Ebes Collection, Melbourne, VIC
Similarly, Thomas’ work is widely collected both in Australia and overseas.