Walala Tjapaltjarri

DOB: Late 1960s
BORN: East of Kiwirrkurra, WA
COMMUNITY: Kiwirrkurra, WA

Walala Tjapaltjarri

Walala Tjapaltjarri began painting in December 1987, a few years after settling at Kiwirrkurra.  He was introduced to painting by his cousin Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, he taught Walala about using paints and canvas they soon joined the Papunya Tula artists, and he, Thomas Tjapaltjarri and Warlimpirrnga eventually gained fame internationally as the Tjapaltjarri Brothers.

Walala was one of the ‘Pintupi Nine’  a group of nine Pintupi people who lived a traditional hunter-gatherer desert-dwelling life in Australia’s Gibson Desert until 1984 when they made contact with their relatives near Kiwirrkurra. They are sometimes also referred to as “the lost tribe”. The group were hailed as ‘the Last nomads’ in the international press when they left their nomadic life in October 1984. They roamed between waterholes near Lake Mackay, near the Western Australia-Northern Territory border, naked except for their hair string belts and armed with 2m-long wooden spears and spear throwers, and intricately carved boomerangs. Their diet was dominated by goanna and rabbit as well as bush food native plants. The group is a family, consisting of two co-wives (Nanyanu and Papalanyanu) and seven children. There are four brothers (Warlimpirrnga, Walala, Tamlik, and Yari Yari) and three sisters (Yardi, Yikultji and Tjakaraia). The boys and girls were all in their early-to-late teens, although their exact ages were not known; the mothers were in their late 30s.

The father – the husband of the two wives – died, possibly from eating spoiled canned foods found at an old mining exploration camp. After this, the group travelled south to where they thought their relatives might be, as they had seen ‘smokes’ in that direction. They encountered a man from Kiwirrkura but due to misunderstanding, they fled back north while he returned to the community and alerted others who then travelled back with him to find the group. The community members quickly realised that the group were relatives who had been left behind in the desert twenty years earlier when many had travelled into the missions nearer Alice Springs. The community members travelled by vehicle to where the group were last seen and then tracked them for some time before finding them. After making contact and establishing their relationships, the Pintupi nine were invited to come and live at Kiwirrkura, where most of them still reside. The Pintupi-speaking trackers told them there was plenty of food, and water that came out of pipes; Yardi has said that this concept astounded them. Medical examination revealed that the Tjapaltjarri clan (as they are also known) were “in beautiful condition. Not an ounce of fat, well proportioned, strong, fit, healthy”. At Kiwirrkurra, near Kintore, they met with other members of their extended family.

Walala paints aspects of the Tingari Cycle.  Tingari traditions are widely distributed among the Aboriginal people of Central and Western Australia. ‘Tingari’ can usually be presumed to refer to a specific group of inter-related Tjukurrpa (song-myth cycles) which relate to a group of ancestral elders who – in the Dreaming – travelled over vast areas of the Western Desert, performing rituals and creating or opening up the country. Tingari songs are learned by post-initiatory novices during a time of intensive ritual instruction when they are secluded from women and children. The associated visual designs (used in ceremonial body and ground paintings) have featured extensively in the paintings of Pintupi artists, most notably in Papunya Tula artworks from Kintore and Kiwirrkurra.

Four sided shapes are used to create a depiction of the land created by the Tingari Ancestral Spirits. The concentric circles in this artwork depict the rock holes where the men perform the ceremonies associated with the Tingari Cycle.




  • AMP Investments Australia, Sydney
  • Gantner Myer Aboriginal Art Collection CNC International Corporation, Sydney
  • Axiom Funds Management, Sydney
  • Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, Perth
  • El Paso Energy International Co, Houston, Texas
  • Epic Energy Australia, Brisbane
  • Flinders University, Adelaide
  • Hastings Funds Management, Melbourne
  • Kaplan & Levi Collection, Seattle
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
  • The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica
  • Hank Ebes Collection, Melbourne
  • Corrigan Collection, Sydney
  • Luciano Benetton Collection, Venice
  • Fondation Burkhardt-Felder Arts et Culture, Moitiers, Switzerland
  • Artbank, Sydney

Awards and Recognition

2000 17th NATSIAA, Darwin – Finalist
1999 16th NATSIAA, Darwin – Finalist
1998 15th NATSIAA, Darwin – Finalist
1997 14th NATSIAA, Darwin – Finalist

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

2019 Walala Tjapaltjarri Self-portrait, Fondation Opale, Lens, Switzerland
2001 Tingari Cycle – Walala Tjapaltjarri, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
1999 Tingari Cycle – Walala Tjapaltjarri, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
1998 Tingari – Men’s Business, Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney
1998 Walala Tjapaltjarri Paintings, Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne
1998 Tingari Cycle – Walala Tjapaltjarri, Fire-Works Gallery, Brisbane

Selected Group Exhibitions:

2021 50 Years of Papunya Tula Artists, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2020 Central Focus, Art Mob, Hobart
2019 An Exhibition on TJAPALTJARRI Brothers from the Indigenous Lost Tribe, Mandel Aboriginal Art Gallery, Melbourne
2019 Defining Tradition | the colourists, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2019 Defining Tradition: the first wave & its disciples, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2019 Sculpture Projects, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2019 Pintupi Artists of the Western Desert, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle, WA
2018 Three Brothers, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2010 Lost Tribe, Kate Owen Gallery, Sydney
2000-01 The Art of Place Exhibition, Australian Heritage Commission, National Tour
2000 Walala Tjapaltjarri and Dr George Tjapaltjarri, Cooee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Sydney
2000 Songlines: Walala Tjapaltjarri & Dorothy Napangardi , Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London
2000 My Country – Journeys of our Ancestors, Ancient Earth Indigenous Art, Cairns
2000 Lines, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
2000 Landmarks Exhibition, Dar Festival, Brisbane Powerhouse, Brisbane
2000 Fifth National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra
2000 Melbourne ArtFair 2000, Melbourne
1999 Tingari Cycle, FireWorks Gallery, Brisbane
1999 Spirit Country, The California Palace of the Legion of Honour, San Francisco, U.S.A.
1999 Recent Works by Walala Tjapaltjarri and Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London
1999 My Dreaming, Redrock Gallery, Melbourne
1999 Painting the Desert Alliance Francaise de Canberra and the French Embassy, Canberra
1998 Tingari – My Dreaming, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle

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