Warlpiri - History and Cultural Relations

There is no archaeological evidence indicating when the area the Warlpiri inhabited at first contact was originally occupied. Other parts of central Australia were, however, sparsely occupied 22,000 years ago and parts of Australia for at least 40,000 years. European explorers began passing through their country from 1862 onward, but it was the development of the pastoral industry in the Victoria River District to the north in the 1880s, and a gold rush at the same period in the Halls Creek region, that initiated sustained contact for some Warlpiri. In 1910 and again in 1930 there were short-lived gold rushes in the Tanami Desert; like the pastoral industry, gold mines utilized Aboriginal people for labor but, unlike the pastoral industry, only briefly. Both industries brought conflict and displacement for those nearest to them. From the 1920s onward pastoral settlement in the area northwest of Alice Springs impinged more directly on Warlpiri resulting in, among other things, the 1928 killing of a station hand at Coniston Station. This led to major reprisal expeditions in which police and station workers admitted to killing thirty-one people, although they probably killed many more. This outbreak of violence scattered the Warlpiri in the area, some of whom retreated to other cattle stations for protection. In 1946 the government established the settlement of Yuendumu, to which it moved many Warlpiri in the region, thus ending the period in which any Warlpiri were living a completely independent life in the bush. Today, with government assistance, a number of small groups have set up outstations or homeland centers in the area of their traditional land interests, leading to a limited recolonization of the remoter desert regions, supported by modern technology.

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