Purlta Maryanne Downs (c1945-2010)

Language: Walmajarri
Country: Kurtal, Great Sandy Desert

Kumanjayi [deceased] Downs was born at Kurtal Jila [permanent waterhole], near Kururrungku (Billiluna). When she was a young girl she walked a long way with her mother to Paruku (Lake Gregory). Following this when she was still young, she walked again with her parents to Louisa Downs Station. Before Kumanjayi Downs passed away, she told this story:

When we go out bush we get all kinds of food. We get food for the kids like makaparla [bush banana]. We find a tree and sometimes we argue, “This is my tree”, “No it’s mine”. Sometimes we get yams. We used to dig for them ourselves, without our mother. We learnt how to find any kind of food in the bush. My sister taught me to dig up yams and to hunt goanna. When we were hungry away from our mother we looked around for food. We would find possum and sometimes at night, echidna or bandicoot.

Sometimes Jinny and her husband would dig a yam and leave it in the ground covered up. We would come behind and pick it up. We kids would share it. We would eat it raw. Then those two would come back and they would look around for their yam. Jinny would call out, “Where’s my food?” She would look around but she couldn’t find that yam. Then she knew that we had eaten it. She called us the greedy ones. This happened when we were walking from Billiluna.

My sister taught me everything about hunting. We carried water in a coolamon on our heads. My mother taught me how to cook on the fire. She was cheeky and used to hit me but sometimes I was naughty too.

I first started painting at Karrayili Adult Education Centre. We sewed clothes and tried to write with the first teacher. We started painting but we didn’t paint our country. We painted nothing at first. We used mud sometimes to make pots. We also made coolamons and other things.

Ngarrangkarni (Dreamtime) stories
Jilji (sandhills) in the Great Sandy Desert
Kurtal jila (permanent waterhole)
Yutamaral jila Palya jila

1997: Works on Paper Prize, Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award

Art Gallery of NSW
National Gallery of Victoria
National Gallery of Australia
Charles Darwin University, NT
Murdoch University
Fitzroy Crossing High School
Holmes a Court Gallery, Perth