In loving Memory of Kunmanara Langka Peter

This week, NPY Women’s Council remembers and celebrates the life of Kunmanara Langka Peter who passed away 7 years ago.

The life of Langka Peter

Mr Peter was born around 1940 in the bush, near Shirley Well, Kaltjiti or Fregon community. He spent most of his childhood there with his family. His mother was called Kunpirinyi and his father shared his name.

He was given ngangkari powers from his grandfather Peter, who worked as a stockman as well as a ngangkari.  He learnt the skills of the ngangkari by studying the work of his three grandfathers, father and other family members who were ngangkari, as they healed people. He said “And I’ve held onto what my grandfather gave me, all through these years working as a ngangkari. It began by watching my grandfather work with sick people, watching in order to learn. He’d ask me ‘Are you watching this?’ and I’d say ‘Yes, I am’ and I’d watch carefully as he removed objects and things that were causing people to be sick.  I watched a series of treatments in order to learn how to do it.”

Mr Peter began school at Ernabella mission as a nine or ten year old boy, returning to Shirley Well over summer to continue working with his grandfathers.

As a young man he worked as a stockman at Kenmore Park station. In the 1950’s Kenmore Park ran over 14,000 head of cattle, and Mr Peter’s work included keeping the water pumps operating and moving cattle to the train line in Finke. He travelled all over the region around this time. Mr Peter loved the life of the stockman and throughout his life was well known for his impressive cowboy shirts, boots and hats.

Mr Peter married Dulcie Mintji around this time and they had two sons, Winitja and Clive.   Sadly, he lost his oldest son in a car accident in the 1990’s.  Later his wife passed away while on dialysis in Alice Springs; with Mr Peter always close by in her last months in hospital. From his two sons he had many grandchildren – Kikiri, Sharon, Joseph and Walter, Nathanial, Rosemary and Loretta, and also great-grandchildren – Waylan, Eric, Jason, Debbie, Latoya and Tarisha.

As well as his large extended family in the APY lands and cross border area, Mr Peter had many relatives living to the south of the APY Lands, in Coober Pedy, Oodnadatta, Oak Valley, Yalata and Ceduna. Throughout his life he kept up contact with them through regular visits.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, in the time when Anangu were fighting to get the land back, Mr Peter was working hard to establish services at Kaltjiti Community. He was chairman of Irintata Homelands for many years, as well CDEP mayatja. He worked in the first store at Fregon, and also at the school, where he made sure all the kids turned up every day. He also worked on the large community gardens that grew grapes, oranges, melons and vegetables, near where the school is today.  Throughout his life he continued his work as a ngangkari, and he had a long standing, strong relationship with Nganampa Health Council and the Fregon Clinic.

NPY Women’s Council directors and members have always acknowledged the importance and value of ngangkari and when they finally received funding to employ them, the directors sought Mr Peter as the number one ngangkari in the region. He began working for NPY Women’s Council as ngangkari in 1999, with his friend Mr.Tjilari. They were the first to work full time as ngangkari anywhere in Australia. They travelled together all over the region, from Warbuton in the west, across to Finke in the east, to Ceduna and Pt Lincoln in the south, wherever anyone asked them to go. They also visited Anangu in hospitals, jails, nursing homes, mental health units and hostels in Alice Springs, Pt Augusta, Adelaide and Kalgoorlie. Mr Peter was really proud to be a ngangkari and always worked openly in front of the staff. He was never too tired to help and always said he did this work because it made him happy to see sick people get better. Mr Peter helped many, many people not only with his powerful ngangkari ways, but by talking and listening to them as well. “We help people by talking to them and speaking to them straight, to help them move forward from their poor mental state, and we continue talking and talking to them to help them regain their equilibrium . . . We counsel people, yes we do.”

Mr Peter believed really strongly that the best way to help Anangu with health problems was by ngangkari and doctors and nurses working together. But he could see that most doctors and nurses didn’t understand how ngangkari worked, and the way they could help people. He set out to change this by educating them. He was really good at talking about his work and people loved to listen to him, and to learn about Anangu culture and ngangkari work. He talked to doctors and other health workers at conferences and workshops all over Australia. He made friends everywhere he went and people who met him always remembered him, and were often profoundly affected by his words.

Mr Peter developed a strong relationship over many years with the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association. He really enjoyed supporting indigenous doctors and medical students, and travelled with them to Canada, New Zealand and Hawaii, where he met indigenous doctors from other parts of the world.  Mr Peter also travelled to Canada and Alaska to find out about petrol sniffing in other indigenous communities.

Mr Peter had a special interest in mental health, and worked closely with mental health workers in Alice Springs, and elsewhere. As their understanding of the work of ngangkari grew, so to did the respect and regard for his work and skills among mental health practitioners.  As a result, Mr Peter and the NPYWC ngangkari project won many awards – in 2009 the Mark Sheldon Prize from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, and also the Dr Margaret Tobin Award for excellence in mental health service delivery. In 2011 they were awarded the International Sigmund Freud Prize from City of Vienna, at the World Congress of Psychotherapy. He was very proud of these awards, which he saw as a great acknowledgment of the importance and value of ngangkari and Anangu culture.

“There is a really long tradition of ngangkari in the Anangu world. Well before my time, the old men and women ngangkari were responsible for looking after and the healing of and their people. And that is what they did – in the bush, in an environment where there were no hospitals. The ngangkari had the sole responsibility of caring for everyone and making sure they were OK. This was before my time. Today we work really confidently and together in the hospitals – it’s a new way of working. So we have seen that time of not having hospitals in that world and ngangkari having the sole responsibility, to coming closer and closer, until today where we see ourselves working really quite closely with people in hospitals. We do that through the Women’s Council work, a lot of meetings, talks, getting to know each other’s style and skills. This is something that has grown over time and we work really closely today.”

With his sparkling eyes and funny, playful ways, Mr Peter was a magnetic presence, loved by men, women and children of all cultures.   But he was an especially important man for Anangu, with his vast knowledge of law and culture and for his role as a master of mediation and reconciliation – kalypalpai, – bringing people together. His loving spirit- kurunpa mukulya, his kindness, compassion and generosity spread out beyond his own family to cover every one he met.

Mr Peter not only made people better, he made people happy everywhere he went. This gift will keep him in our hearts forever.