An Indigenous Map depicting a holistic world of a sacred land by Colleen Keating


Our recent visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art  with a new exhibition on recent Indigenous Art.

This full wall mural was the one i kept returning to. It made me feel so much joy and every visit I learnt something new and yet it is about a desperately sad story.   Uranium Mining is threatening their homeland. Hence there is fear, stress, worry and powerlessness as it has happened before.

The map is unlike a Western Map which depicts a linear idea of a place . This map depicts water  –underground, shows geography, culture, seasons, biodiversity, environment, fragility,  beauty of the land and our interdependence on the it.


Kalyu 2014

“We painted to save it from the uranium mine . . . and to tell them there is underground stream. There’s no water on the surface to keep the dust down. That’s why we painted this big painting – to tell them and to teach others about the water system in our land “

–Ngalangka Nola Taylor, 2014


This extraordinary painting depicts a vast area in the Pilbara region of Western Australia that encompasses the Martu Aboriginal communities of Parnngurr and Punmu,

and represents the Martu Native Title detemination area in its entirety.  

Painted by nine artists from Parnngurr, it reflects the Martu people’s intimate knowledge of their desert country.

The work is a map in the most expansive sense.

Representing the landscape from below the ground to above the surface.

It brings together aspects of geography,

cultural knowledge

and seasonal time.

Through careful sequenced layers, the painting documents

the fragile, interdependent relationship

between different environmental elements,

indicating how the hidden underground waterways (kalyu) play

a vital role in the biodiversityof the areqa.


Kalyu was made in protest against uranioum mining exploration taking place on the edge of Karlamilyi National Park, which continues today. The national park is exempt from the 2002 Martu native title determination yet is considered by the artists to be

the ‘heart of martu Country’.


My poem written many years ago but still relevant today.

ghost of terra nullius

(in the search for a nuclear waste dump)

i arrived at Newtown community centre

free coffee  plenty of flyers  lots of chatter

and then sat as a welcomed outsider

beckoned by an email  that plucked the right chord

(amidst all the other vibrations including

marine parks   fracking   dumping  our reef)

a woman from Muckaty country stood 

quoted a prominent politician

why on earth can’t people in the middle of nowhere

accept low and intermediate level waste

and then she faced us 

unfortunately the already converted

and she answered his question

this is not nowhere mister politician

this on your Canberra map might look remote 

and empty

out of sight   out of mind 

this is not uninhabited space

this is somewhere   a sacred somewhere

we are here in this back of beyond 

our ancestors breathe and live in the red dust 

we are the land   our dreaming

our journey   our story 

this land is our song

the journal we write

the pictures we paint

this red earth is home to our people

creator and  creation 

no separation for us 

do not come here mister politician 

treading this desert

puts red soil on the soles of your shoes

and you wouldn’t want that

red dust gets into your soul 

makes you feel somewhere

it might choke you when the wind blows

here our horizon is circular   shimmers its mirage 

our population is sparse

yes it gives you space 

for your uranium dump I hear you say

            but we have reason to revolt at ignorance

maralinga   jabaroo and we hear of chenobyl

            maybe just words to you


            our song is our blood poured forth

            our hearts pound for our children

            for us life is timeless 

            for you I sense a rage of time 

but we have our animals and our food 

we have our water  our soil

our precious billabongs and springs

they are not for your contamination