Martu people

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Martu are an Australian Aboriginal people of the Western Desert. Their lands include the Percival Lakes and Pilbara regions in Western Australia. They traditionally occupied a large tract of land; their neighbours to the east are the Pintupi.

Martu language groups include Manyjilyjarra; Kartujarra; Kiyajarra; Putijarra; Nyiyaparli; Warnman; Ngulipartu; Pitjikala; Kurajarra; Jiwaliny; Mangala; and Nangajarra. Martu means 'one of us', or 'person'. The language is also called Martu Wangka, a Western Desert Language.

The group identifier has only been used by non-Aborigines since the 1980s. Not long before this, white Australians thought that Pintupi people occupied this remote part of Australia. Today, Martu live at Jigalong, Wiluna, Punmu, Parnngurr and Kunawarritji.

In 1964, a small clan of Martu, composed only of women and children, was "brought in" from their country to a mission at Jigalong to make way for the Blue Streak missile tests. The missiles, fired from Woomera, South Australia, were designed to dump in traditional Martu country. Successive Western Desert Aborigines had "come in", or were "brought in" to overcrowded settlements, such as Papunya. A strong debate raged over this "detribalisation" of traditional-living Aborigines. State and Federal Governments had turned a blind eye to them up until then, leaving their fate to missionaries and cattle graziers. Kim Beazley sen, MHR, summed up the opinion of some at the time, saying in the House of Representatives, "it looks like the old problem of dispossession because we want something".

At this time, in the 1960s, some Martu had not seen white people, but knew of them from their ancestors, some of whom had encountered them at the creation of the Canning Stock Route in 1906-7. The experience had been a brutal one for many of the Martu people, who had been forced to serve as 'guides' and reveal water sources, after having been 'run down' by men on horseback, restrained by heavy chains, and tied to trees at night. A Royal Commission in 1908 exonerated Canning, after an appearance by Kimberley explorer John Forrest who claimed that all explorers had acted in such a fashion. The rabbit-proof fence also runs through Martu country. The film of the same name, based on the novel by Doris Pilkington Garimara, is based on the lives of some Martu girls, including Doris's mother, Molly Craig, Daisy Craig and Gracie Fields.

In 2002, Martu were granted native title to much of their country, after almost two decades of struggle[1][2] It was geographically the largest claim in Australia to that time. However, Karlamilyi (Karlamilyi National Park) was not included. Teddy Biljabu said at the time that they had been given 'a body without its heart'.

Martu kinship[edit]

Martu society is divided into four skin groups, or subsections. There are very strict rules as to who may marry whom:

Male skin name Can only marry
female skin name
Children will be
Panaka Karimarra
Purungu Milangka Karimarra
Panaka Purungu
Milangka Purungu Panaka

See also[edit]


  1. ^ news/martu.html Martu title rights
  2. ^ Red soil of the Martu comes home. Determination of 27 September 2002 awards native title over 136,000 km² in the Western Desert to the Martu people.'Talking native title', Issue 5, Dec. 2002, p. 1-2,

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]