Karen’s paintings depict one of many ‘jurlpu’ (bird) species that live around Yuendumu. The bush around Yuendumu provides many different habitats for birds to live in. Many bird species live around waterholes and rivers, like the ‘pirniny- pirninypa’ (black fronted dotterel (Elseyornis melanops) and Ngajirri (budgerigar [Melopsittacus undulates]). Others live in the spinifex country, like the ‘nuwiyingki’ or ‘panngarra’ (cockatiel [Nymphicus hollandicus]). Still others make nests in trees, like the ‘juwayikirdi’.
People hunt some of these species for meat. The most popular species to hunt today are the ‘yankirri’ (emu [Dromaius novaehollandiae]) and ‘wardilyka’ (bush turkey [Ardeotis australis]). People also used to hunt ‘yupurru’ (spinifex pigeon and ‘ngapilkiri’ (crested pigeon ), among others.
A number of bird species tell people messages. Several species tell people when rain is coming, including the ‘jintirr-jintirrpa’ (willy wagtail) and ‘kalwa’ (crane). The cries of other birds, like the ‘kirrkalanji’ (brown falcon ) and ‘ngamirliri’ (bush stone curlew), can make children sick. The ‘paku- paku’ (crested bellbird) and ‘kurlukuku’ (diamond dove ) are messengers of love songs.
People also use messages from birds to help them hunt. The ‘juwayikirdi’ and ‘piirn-piirnpa’ (yellow throated miner) cry when goannas are nearby. People know to run quickly when these birds cry, so that they can catch the goannas. In Warlpiri culture, ‘jurlpu’ (birds) are associated with a number of different ‘Jukurrpa’ (Dreaming) stories. Some are even associated with major ceremonies, including the Jardiwarnpa fire ceremony.
Karen Napaljarri Barnes was born in Lajamanu, a remote Aboriginal community in semi-arid country on the edge of the Tanami Desert 1000km north-west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. She moved to Yuendumu, 700km south, after finishing school in Lajamanu, to be with her family.