The Pitjantjatjara story

The Pitjantjatjara are calling themselves Anangu (=people) and are still the most important inhabitants of the Western part of the Central Desert. The total population consists of 3,000 Anangu and they occupy a territory of 500,000 km2.

In the early times, an area of 25 km2 in the best regions (e.g. Everard Ranges in the north) could feed one person. The average ratio, however, was one person per 200 km2. To live and to survive in such a harsh world, the Anangu followed a balanced land management:

  • Knowledge of the nature (land, flora, and fauna)
  • Influence of storms, rain, and wind on the environment
  • Land management (bushfire, clearing, waterholes, etc.)

In regions where this no longer happens (e.g. sheep country) or where Anangu are no longer managing the area, several disasters have occurred (uncontrolled bush fired, soil pollution, silt, polluted water holes). By means of land management (and not only land usage) Anangu were able to survive and to live and even more than that.

The women provide 80% of the food – seeds, bush fruits and bush vegetables and small animals – while the men hunt for kangaroos, emus, and goannas.

On average they spend between 5-8 hours per day on food collecting, preparation, etc. In this way they have created for themselves a life in which there is plenty of time for dance, songs and other spiritual or cultural activities. It might be true that the original Australians in general had in our eyes a rather different level of technology and economy, but their religious and spiritual and cultural level was (is) amongst the most complex on earth.

Their whole society is based on the Tjukurrpa. It is their history, religion, law, presence, and future. Therefore, things are the way they are. It is difficult for white Australians to understand this, because all these elements are treated separately by us.

The Tjukurrpa law also provides for the sharing of the products of the land. This is still organised within strict rules. This law prevents e.g. that young, old and disabled Anangu should suffer. A necessity in a land where food is unevenly available.


Paul and Ilyatjari


Tjukurrpa and tribal society

Pitjantjatara TOC