Ngatatjara - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeology at Puntutjarpa RockShelter, close to the Warburton Ranges, demonstrates continuous use of this area for foraging and habitation for at least the last 10,000 years by Aboriginal people whose technology and economy closely resembled those of the traditional Ngatatjara at the time of European contact. Some changes are noted, such as a shift toward greater dependence upon edible grass seeds and the addition of small, geometric flaked-stone artifacts to the tool kit. But the economy remained oriented toward hunting and gathering wild foods that occur naturally in this area today. Recent archaeology to the west of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, has produced a sequence of Aboriginal occupation extending back 22,000 years, so the possibility exists that ancient ancestors of the present-day Western Desert Aborigines exploited Pleistocene species that are now extinct. European-Australian explorers first entered this region in 1873, but permanent settlement based upon water from a drilled well at the Warburton Ranges Mission did not occur until 1934. What followed was a period during which increasing numbers of nomadic desert people settled at the mission. Although the population at the mission grew as a result of in-migration, periodic epidemics severely reduced the number of inhabitants from time to time. By 1970 the mission was a settlement with government services that included a school, clinic, and a small store but with no self-sustaining economy. The Warburton population has remained primarily dependent upon outside support in the form of mission donations and government aid, although resident Aborigines are now becoming increasingly involved in decisions about their community, and there are indications, such as those shown by the movement by some Aborigines to outstations during the 1970s, that the period of colonial dependency at Warburton and elsewhere in this region is ending.

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