Chapter 6
Alyawarra Country
An image of the map of Australia with a callout showing the location of Alyawarra country
Alyawarra country is where Banjo was born and lived.
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Alyawarra country has been impacted by pastoralists since the late 1800s. The white colonists took land, displacing the Alyawarra people.
In 1974, anthropologist Norman Tindale estimated that traditional Alyawarra lands extended over approximately 46,000km2 – including the Sandover and Bundey Rivers, and Ooratippra and Fraser creeks.
The Sandover Highway leading to Ampilatwatja
Alyawarra land claims began with an area approximately 1540km2 which was completely surrounded by pastoral leases.
Alyawarra country includes Ammaroo and Elkedra stations. Its northern boundary extends to the southern Davenport Ranges.

Its eastern boundary takes in most of Argadargada Station. The southern boundary reaches into McDonald Downs, and the western edge extends to Utopia.
Australian indigenous people lived in harmony with the land for more than sixty thousand years.
By taking care of water sources – natural springs, creeks, waterholes, lakes, and rivers – they have survived in challenging environments throughout Australia.

Water collection and storage practices have evolved over thousands of years and continue to this day.
A photo of the painting View of Country After Rain painting by Rosemary Pula Beasley.
View of Country After Rain painting by Rosemary Pula Beasley.
Angelina Finds Water
Alyawarra people recognise the importance of their custodianship of water sources, and the rights and responsibilities of visitors to these sites.
Tension between the Alyawarra people and the pastoralists grew almost immediately because the pastoralists did not respect the ways of the Alyawarra. Their cattle and horses quickly degraded the waterholes.
Destruction of Water Soakage
Guardians of Country
A photo of Anthropologist Richard Moyle standing with a group of men in Alyawarr country
Anthropologist Richard Moyle who began working out in Ampilatwataja and on Alyawarr country in the 1970s with men from the Morton family and others pointing to the tree where their caravan was based during research in the 1970s.
Anthropologist Richard Moyle began working in Ampilatwatja and on Alyawarra country in the 1970s. He’s pictured here with men from the Morton family and others pointing to the tree where their research caravan was based.
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ROCK HOLES occur naturally in areas where water doesn’t soak into the ground. They can be made bigger using different types of abrasive rocks. Rock holes are often covered with branches to reduce evaporation and keep out animals.
TREE ROOTS soak up and store water. The roots of some eucalypts can be dug up and cut open to release the water inside.
SOAKS occur when water seeps into sandy hollows. These are often found in dry river beds. Careful digging exposes the water. Traditional owners work to maintain the health of these soaks.
ROCK WELLS lead into underground aquifers. Like rock holes, these can be protected from animals and the elements with rock slabs or branches.
Out-of-control summer bushfires in Australia threaten Aboriginal communities and sites, native animals and plants, and also contribute to climate change.
A photo of the painting View of Country After Rain painting by Rosemary Pula Beasley.
View of Country After Rain painting by Rosemary Pula Beasley.
Indigenous fire management creates a mosaic-effect, leaving the shape of the grasses intact.
These low-intensity fires, called cultural burns, have a number of benefits:
  1. Animals and insects have enough time to escape.
  2. Young trees can survive, and native grass seeds stay intact. Also, the fires are not intense enough to ignite the oil in a tree’s bark. Cool fires don’t bake the seeds or nutrients in the soils.
  3. The fire goes out straight after it burns the grass and does not go anywhere near the canopy of trees.
  4. Introduced weeds are not fire-resistant, so the fire removes them without the need for chemicals.
  5. Cultural burns encourage the growth of native plants and the return of native animals.
Cultural burns are being enhanced by the use of technology.
Satellite images, fuel load mapping, and aerial incendiary technology is building on the traditional knowledge to reduce the wildfire risk across Aboriginal lands.

Interest in cultural burns has greatly increased since the catastrophic bushfires over the summer of 2019/2020.
The Alyawarra culture is built on deep knowledge of plants and animals, and the complexity of the land around them.
Red soil
Unlike many deserts in other areas of the world, the majority of the soils in Central Australia are poor and infertile. The distinctive red earth is caused by iron oxides which have accumulated after millions of years of weathering.
A photo of the desert in Central Austrial showing red earth caused by iron oxide accmulation
A photo of Karlu Karlu, Devil's Marbles
Karlu Karlu/Devil’s Marbles
Karlu Karlu (approx. 240km north of Ampilatwatja) is on the boundary of Alyawarra country, and has great cultural significance for the Warumungu, Kaytetye, and Warlpiri people, too.

These impressive granite marbles are found in the Karlu Karlu Reserve about 393km north of Alice Springs. They were formed from an upsurge of molten rock that cooled and became solid. Karlu Karly means ‘round boulders’ in English.
The boulders create shelter and a variety of environments where animals and plants can thrive. Bottle-shaped mud nests of Fairy Martins can be found hanging on the underside of the boulders.

The small Black-headed Goanna lives in the crevices, while the larger Sand Goanna can be found in the thick clumps of spinifex growing between the boulders.

The sheltered environment is suitable for sensitive plants such as the native Rock Fig.
A photo of bolders
The Alyawarra people have been sustained by their land for thousands of years.
Today, there is still a strong connection to the food and medicines that Alyawarra people collect from the land.
A photo of a Bush tomato
Bush tomato
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A photo of Bush berries
Bush berries
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Traditional hunting and gathering still occurs across Alyawarra country. Game includes echidna, goanna and kangaroo. A wide range of fruit and vegetables can be gathered: bush tomatoes, bush potatoes, bush berries, bush bananas and more.
The Alyawarra’s strong connection to their land has involved using natural resources to make tools and other equipment.
Still today, skilled craftsmen in Ampilatwatja like Donald Thomson and Frank Holmes, carve a number of items from wood including decorative spears and coolamons, boomerangs and woomeras.
A photo of Frank Holmes carving a number 7 boomerang.
Frank Holmes carving a number 7 boomerang.
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Alyawarra Legacy
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Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains images, voices and names of people who have passed away.

I Understand