Ngapa - Two Cultures One Country


Tanami Desert 
Brown's Mart Theatre Darwin

Research trip: May, 1996

Performance: August 29-31, 1996
Festival of Darwin

A journey into performance dedicated to the late Freddy Jangala Patrick (1930-1995).

In April 1996 nine Australian artists journeyed into the centre of Australia, into the Tanami Desert, the heartlands of the Warlpiri people. Seven were the traditional owners of this country and two were white artists from Tracks. Together with an oral historian and archivist, they followed the section of the 2000 km Ngapa Jukurrpa (the rainstorm dreaming) path that belonged to the late Freddy Jangala Patrick and his family. The Ngapa pathway contains a series of sacred sites that connect Alice Springs to Darwin.

Later that year members of the party regrouped in Darwin to tell their story of the journey through performance. This engrossing, moving and comic performance was divided into two sections. In the first the men created a traditional sand painting while the women painted up and danced sacred song cycles related to the Ngapa Jukurrpa. The second was a re-enactment of the journey.

This performance, presented as a Festival of Darwin event, sought to address how an understanding of ‘Dreaming’ (Jukurrpa) informs our contemporary life, a question shared by Warlpiri elders & youths, and non-indigenous people alike. Ngapa was the search for meeting points of ceremony and performance, of traditional and contemporary.

This project was formed out of a relationship with an old man who died during the process. This relationship is the origin of the project and cannot be removed from the overall experience.

“Some years ago I was confronted by a young kartiya fellow (European bloke) while doing a Kurruwarri painting. He asked me to explain to him about the patterns and dots in the Kurruwarri that I did in the canvas. I happily explained to him. That was when I first met Tim. As years passed Tim spent a lot of time with us and we grew to love him as our son. My Jampijinpas, (sons) also call him brother. I knew Tim wanted to learn more about Yapa traditional ways and I am happy to teach him my family’s Ngapa Dreaming.” Freddy Jangala Patrick as translated from Warlpiri by Steve Jampijinpa Patrick.

The research and development of this project had its first phase between November 1995 and May 1996. The trip had to be postponed twice: firstly due to the death of a key artist and senior Traditional Owner of the Dreaming (Freddy Jangala Patrick), and secondly due to freak rainstorms that left the community of Lajamanu a stranded island. The rehearsals following the April trip predominantly happened in Lajamanu, in the surrounding bush country and in the lounge room of an empty house. A final week in Darwin prepared the work for the theatre.

The overall process involved the collection, documentation and learning of songs, designs, dances and stories. It involved a great deal of negotiating and gaining rights to tell the stories and present them, as well as gathering the relevant materials for the rituals.

Major sites visited and events during the research trip on the search for Kurlpurlunu:

  • Lajamanu - Our starting point
  • Warriyana (an important rock hole for Mamingirri,  two man-eating devils. 1st night's Camp – Gladys Napangardi's Country)
  • Parrulyu, where Rosie Napurrula tells us about a snake eating two Nangalas
  • Kirrkalunji (Brown Hawk) story at night by Rosie Napurrula about how many of the waterholes were created
  • Priti Priti – Thompson Rockhole. (Kirnti-Kirntipa Man (Triangle rock with holes). Two Nungarrayis in the water. Water is their tears. Marks on the rock come from being speared by the Lightning man From whom he stole the two Nungarrayis.
  • Burra (?) - Large flat rock with lightning through it and gouges full of water.
  • Piti Piti - Mt Solitaire

Creative Personnel

Research Trip
Artists: Tim Newth, David McMicken, Steve Jampijinpa Patrick, Abe Jangala (dec), Rosie Napurrula (dec), Myra Nungarrayi Patrick, Molly Napurrula Tasman (dec), Gladys Napangardi Kelly (dec), Kajanarra Napangardi Granites (dec)
Oral Historian and Archivist: Frances Goode


Tim Newth, David McMicken, Steve Jampijinpa Patrick, Jimmy Jampijinpa Kelly, Henry Jakamarra Cook, Alice Napaljarri Kelly, Judy Napaljarri Walker, Rosie Napurrula Tasman, Myra Nungarrayi Patrick, Molly Napurrula Tasman, Gladys Napangardi Kelly, Maisie Kajanarra Napangardi Granites, Jeannie Napurrula Birrell


Lighting Design and Technician - Matthew James
Technical Assistance - Peter Twigg, Jaqueline Nampijinpa Patrick
Administration - Sarah Calver, Berenice Franklin
Recorded Stories - Frances Goode
Photography - Frances Goode, David McMicken, Tim Newth, Steve Jampijinpa Patrick

Tracks Dance 1996

Co-Artistic Directors: Sarah Calver, David McMicken, Tim Newth
Administrator: Liann Stevenson

[Under Brown's Mart Community Arts – Executive Officer Ken Conway]



Explore Further 

Lajamanu / Milpirri

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Artist Notes

Media Response

"…enveloping the spiritual, political and cultural dimensions." Rosemary West, The Age

"Completely engrossing (and) moving." Suzanne Spunner, Real Time

"The quintessential installation was Ngapa.” Suzanne Spunner

Audience Response

You are actually challenging the audience’s idea of what is culturally acceptable as performance.” Denise Officer

“There was an honesty and realness in the material which had not been over theatricalised.” Lisa Beilby – Visual Artist

“The relationship between the white people and the Aboriginal cast is obviously so strong and genuine.”  Rowena Ivers – Aboriginal health worker and author of - The Spotted Skin

“I learnt more about Central Australian Aboriginal people by watching this show than I have through any other means”  Inez – Linguistics and anthropology student

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