Thomas (Tamayinya) Tjapaltjarri
Thomas (Tamayinya) Tjapaltjarri (Tjapangati)
DOB: Early 1960’s
Country: WIlkinkarra (including the sites of Marawa, Tarkurrnga, Njami, Ungarta and Yarrawangu) Gibson Desert, Western Australia
Thomas and his extended family of nine, including his older ‘brother’, Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri and younger half- brother, Walala Tjapaltjarri, lived a nomadic and traditional hunter-gathering life in the great Gibson Desert and , with their understanding of the land and waterholes, survived as their ancestors had for centuries.
Warlimpirrnga was born around 1955 at Tjuulnga east of Kiwirrkurra in Pintupi country. His mother, Papalya Nangala and father, Waku Tjungurrayi then had a daughter, Takariya. Waku also took three of Papalya’s sisters as his wives and they all lived in the desert without any knowledge of ‘white fellas’. Wati and Watjunka (one of the sisters) already had a son called Piyirti (also spelt Payirti and Piyiti). After Waki died around 1964 Lanti (also known as Old Joshua) arrived from Balgo (where, according to Jeremy Long he had been burnt in a fire) and, as he was the ‘right skin’ Tjungurrayi for the sisters, he took them as his wives with Nanu as his primary one. Joshua and Nanu’s children were Tamayinya (Thomas), Yalti and Yulkulti. Lanti and Watjunka had a son called Walala who was the youngest of the extended family.
When Lanti died around 1981/1982 it was thought he had been poisoned by non-Aboriginal mining people who believed he had been entering their camp stealing tinned meat. The twice widowed Papalya and Nanu, who had been told about ‘white fellas’ by Lanti and were scared sent Warlimpirrnga and his half-brother, Piyirti, to search for relatives they hadn’t seen for many years. They came across Pinta Pinta Tjapanangka and his son, Matthew, fixing a flat tyre not far from Kiwirrkura.
In October 1984, with no male elder now part of the group and the knowledge all nine were related and that inbreeding could be a possibility, seven Aboriginal men from Kiwirrkura, including Freddy West (who knew the family before he had contact with ‘white fellas’), went searching for the group. Fearing they would be scared seeing clothed Aboriginals the seven stripped naked and convinced the group to return to Kiwirrkura with them. The group comprised of Papalya and Nanu (the widows), in their mid 50’s, Piyiti about 26, Warlimpirrnga about 25, Takariya about 24, Tamayinya about 15, Yalti about 14, Yukultji about 12 or 13 and Walala about 12. Up until this time they had had no personal contact with Europeans.
Their arrival in Kiwirrkura made international headlines and they became known as ‘The Lost Tribe’ and ‘The Pintupi Nine’. These first contact experiences were the focus of one episode of Robert Hughes’ Beyond the Fatal Shore 2000 documentary for the BBC and ABC.
After a few months Piyiti crept away from Kiwirrkura and walked back to the desert. Warlimpirrnga has said he is the only one who knows where Piyiti is and has often seen him.
Thomas began painting with Walala in Papunya Tula in 1987 which was in the classical Tingari style favoured by Pintupi artists. Thomas paints the Tingari Cycle (the Ancestors travels during the Tjukurrpa (creation time) of his country, performing ceremonies to create the diversity of the land (for example; water holes, sand dunes, mountains, plants and animals). And thus, sacred sites. These Men’s Business stories and ceremonies are still recognised in the ‘songlines’ and teachings today to the initiated.
Due to his epilepsy and his long-term government disability pension Thomas is often called ‘Pensioner” by his extended family.
Thomas has painted as an independent artist for many years and has been involved with Tingari Arts since 2001. He, Warlimpirrnga and Walala are very close and often paint together. Thomas is a warm, gentle man and a pleasure to be associated with.
Hank Ebes Collection, Melbourne
Corrigan Collection, Sydney