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The People and their Traditional Country

The Putijarra people traditionally lived around the southern end of the Canning Stock Route which ran through the Great and Little Sandy Deserts from the town of Halls Creek to Wiluna. These people lived a hunter-gatherer and firestick farming lifestyle in very harsh desert conditions. Many Putijarra people moved to Jigalong Rations Depot in the 1920s and then to Jigalong Mission between the 1940s and 60s. Putijarra people married into the more dominant Kartujarra and Manyjilyjarra cultures and this was one of the major factors in the decline of the language.


In the 1920s there was an extensive drought in the desert and the Putijarra people were suffering. Some people made their way to the Jigalong Rations Depot set up on the Rabbit Proof Fence. They walked back to Putijarra country and told family members about the food available at the depot. People decided to head into the Jigalong depot because of the drought and also because of shootings of Aboriginal people that were happening on the lower section of the Canning Stock Route.


Another depot on the Rabbit Proof Fence was at a place close to the town of Wiluna. Some Putijarra people walked there and settled in the town of Wiluna. The Putijarra people were thus split into two groups, the first group living at Jigalong and the second at Wiluna.


Putijarra speaker Grace Coppin works with Wangka Maya on publications in the language. (Photo by Andrew Spratt)

In 2004 there were estimated to be four speakers of the Putijarra language. It is a highly endangered language. Many more people are partial speakers, have a passive knowledge of Putijarra or identify as being from Putijarra heritage.


Some elements of the more widely spoken Martu Wangka originate from Putijarra. Martu Wangka has developed in relatively recent times since members of a range of language groups have lived in close proximity in communities in the Western Desert. Children of the remaining Putijarra speakers mostly speak Martu Wangka and may have difficulty identifying which elements of Martu Wangka originate from Putijarra.


There may be a number of Putijarra speakers residing in the towns of Wiluna and Meekatharra. It is unknown whether the Putijarra from this location is the same as Pilbara Putijarra, or is a variation of the language.


Remaining Putijarra speakers live in the communities of Jigalong and Yandeyarra and the town of Newman; most are elderly.


Language Resources and Recordings

The first recordings of the Putijarra language appear to be by O’Grady in 1961. Marsh compiled various wordlists and documents of the language. In 2004, Wangka Maya Language Centre published the Putijarra Wordlist and Sketch Morphology, which can also be viewed on-line as a e-Book Dictionary.


In 2011, Wangka Maya published the Putijarra Interactive Dictionary. Publication of the Putijarra Plant Book will soon be completed.


Putijarra people traditionally lived in the country along the Canning Stock Route. (Photo by Andrew Spratt)

Language Information

Putijarra is part of the Pama-Nyungan language family; a large group of indigenous languages spread over much of the Australian continent. It belongs to the Wati subgroup of languages along with forty other Western Desert languages such as Warnman, Kartujarra, Ngaanyatjarra, Pintupi, Yulparija and others.


Past spellings of the Putijarra language include Potidjara, Budidjara and Pawututjara.


Written Examples of the Putijarra Language


Jirlukurruwanalaju yankupuka pujimanpalaju nyinapuka jiiwana.

As Bushmen, we used to travel to Well 17 (on the Canning Stock Route) and stay all around there.


Japu kujarrajarapulanya kanyjipuka Parlpawintirlu.

Charlie was looking after those two little ones.


Marntamarangkajaralujanampa purtu ngurrina ngurrina jurna.

Those policemen couldn’t find them; they searched and searched and then left.


Ngurlu yinyajara.

These things are sacred.


Jumpirlijiya majupukujana; ngulyuljaka.

Not a little kid, a big kid; I was a thief.


Nyinta nyuntujara pilyarrijara jarrpajiya nyina!

You half-caste kids don't have a swim!