Two decades after a giant Aboriginal painting was used in a successful native title claim in Western Australia’s remote north, the canvas has been returned for the first time to the traditional lands where it was created.
While fighting the Kimberley region’s largest native title claim in 1997, more than 40 traditional owners and desert artists travelled to Pirnini to map their homelands on a collective canvas measuring eight by 10 metres.
Up to 200 people are expected to gather in the Great Sandy Desert on Thursday to “awaken” the artwork, which became evidence for the vast Ngurrara native title claim that was won a decade later.
At 20, Terry Murray was the youngest of the artists who worked on Ngurrara Canvas II.
All seven surviving artists are expected to help celebrate its return to the banks of Lake Pirnini, where Mr Murray says ancestors will also be honoured.
“We want to recognise those who are deceased, and those who are still standing,” he said.
“Now is the time to come together after 20 years.”
The immense artwork, which charts sacred water holes and soaks across the land claim, serves as a politically-charged expression of indigenous connection to country.
The Ngurrara claim covers almost 78,000 square kilometres of the Kimberley’s southern desert region – an area bigger than Tasmania.
It’s comprised of people from the Walmajarri, Wangkajunga, Mangala and Juwaliny language groups.
Ngurrara Canvas II, which took two weeks to produce, was carefully removed from storage at Mangkaja Arts in Fitzroy Crossing for the event.
Mr Murray said talks would be held around the artwork’s future and how best to bring its stories into the public domain.
“We would like to take the next generation and the standing elders on a journey to explore how we can celebrate the canvas’ power going forward,” he said.