People of the Great Victoria Desert, WA

By Quentin Chester 14 August 2013
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For 600 generations, the resilient Pila Nguru people have inhabited one of Australia’s harshest environments.

CARLENE STILL HAS A young, round face and quick smile. In the cool pre-dawn light the small campfire beside her casts a welcome glow. It is one of a dozen or so family fires that dot this crest of red sand in the Great Victoria Desert. The scene is timeless.

For at least 15,000 years, Carlene’s kin have been hunting and camping in this country. This has always been their land. This is the home of the Spinifex People.

We’re 10km north-west of Tjuntjuntjara, Western Australia, arguably the most remote community in the nation. The nearest town of note is Kalgoorlie, 570km to the south-west.

For the Spinifex People, or the Pila Nguru, this place is anything but remote. They sense every bristle and fold of the land as if it were their own skin. In its fickle way the desert offers food, water and shelter. More importantly, it thrives with spiritual knowledge and ancestral law. These people haven’t endured in spite of their isolation but because of it.

To find out more about the Spinifex People, grab a copy of issue 116 (Sep/Oct) of the Australian Geographic journal.