The life of Andy Tjilari

Posted on Feb 24, 2016

The life of Andy Tjilari


The Life of Andy Tjilari        1925 – 16.5.2015

Kunmanara was born sometime around 1925, at Nyultu, near Kalka, close to where the NT, SA and WA borders meet today.

He lived with his father Tommy Urutjakunu Ngunanti, and mother Anawari Tommy, and two older sisters, Makinti Mayaru and Nyinku Adamson. They lived a traditional life in the bush, hunting and walking through their country. Kunmanara often told stories of seeing white people for the first time as a child, explorers on camels and horses, and also flying overhead in an aeroplane, which frightened him so much he slid into a rock crevice to hide, and got stuck. He was a ngangkari from a very early age, after being given healing powers by his father and grandfathers, also ngangkari. Throughout his entire life, he was always learning, practicing and teaching healing the anangu way.

His beloved younger brother Gordon Ingkatji was born around 1930 at Aparatjara, near Puta-puta. When Gordon was big enough to walk, the family travelled to Ernabella Mission, following their relatives. There was plenty of food in the bush and they were able to sustain themselves well, but they had heard about the food available in the Mission, and as many of their relatives had walked there, they decided to go too.

His parents later became shepherds at Araluen and Young’s Well, near Ernabella. The children played and learnt about sheep, then started going to school, still naked in the traditional way. Kunmanara’s first clothes were given to him in Ernabella. The family would walk home to Nyultu on holidays, hunting dingo for their scalps. After their holidays they would walk back to Ernabella and the children would return to school.

The family walked to Areyonga, when he was a boy. Kunmanara stayed there for a while with his uncle’s family and tried out school at Hermannsburg, a Lutheran Mission. He couldn’t understand the Arrente language though, and after a while he returned to his family at Areyonga. As an older boy he went through the Law there to become a Wati, a man.

He returned to Ernabella and started working as a gardener. Kunmanara also repaired tanks, dug wells and sank bores, and worked with the sheep, shepherding, shearing and also butchering. He married Kalkulya, a Yankunytjatjara woman from Mimili, who he met while working at Everard Station. They later had their daughter Tjingilya Inawinytji, born in June 1953 in Ernabella, in the bush, in a little creek. Their son Paul Tjutjuna Andy was born in 1957. Another son Kenneth, a little older than Paul, passed away as a young child. Later, a daughter died at birth.

At Ernabella Kunmanara became interested in the church, studying with Bill Edwards, his lifelong friend. In Easter 1961 he was elected as a Church Leader, along with Alec Minutjukur, Eric Api, and Tony Tjamiwa – now all passed away.

As a church leader for both Ernabella and Fregon he began studying the catechism and baptising people. It took a long time to memorise the catechism but he learnt it and taught many others to recite it too. From then on he was able to baptise many people, anangu and non-indigenous, as a local pastor for the Presbyterian Church. With Bill Edwards and Sandy Mutju he travelled fortnightly from Ernabella to the western communities of Angatja, Puta Puta, Aparatjara, Waltjitjata, Kalka, Pipalyatjara, Kuntjanu and Wingellina to conduct outdoor church services. Other times they travelled the eastern loop through Mimili to Indulkana.

As years passed, Ernabella Mission became too big, and there was a need to set up an outstation. Kunmanara was one of the primary group to set up Kaltjiti (Fregon) He helped to select the site and also did the surveying, measuring and pegging of the sheep fences and paddocks. With Mick Mututa, he mixed concrete and built the first houses in1962. He set up the Fregon garden near Shirley Well in 1963. He also built a large church made of spinifex.

Kunmanara and his young family moved to Fregon when there were only three houses and a garage. On Ara Irititja, Nancy Sheppard, one of the first school teachers, wrote ‘Kunmanara and Kalkulya were instrumental in the establishment of the community at Fregon. As well as working about the station with John Fletcher bringing in the sheep for slaughter, attending to engines, water pumps and bores, setting up windmills, tanks and troughs at the various bores, and serving in the store, Kunmanara participated in translation and language projects, conducted worship services on Sundays, and frequently led the regular morning prayers. He was left in charge at Fregon when John Fletcher made the hundred mile round trip to Ernabella for stores, or with a patient for the hospital, or on other business. Kunmanara was always a calm and wise counsel when crises arose in our isolated location, and gave of himself loyally in support of the teacher and nurse in hard times.”

Kunmanara was an extraordinary dancer and singer, and knew all the dances and songs. Wati Kirkinpa,( brown falcon), Wati Wiilu( curlew), Wati Mitika (burrowing bettong)  Wati Ngintaka (perentie lizard), Wanampi (rainbow serpent) and many, many others. Kunmanara was a great oral historian and custodian of an extensive archive of traditional Inma.He had a strong voice, and could guide ceremonial events, leading the singers and the dancers. He had enormous personal power and cultural knowledge.

He was also a member the Ernabella Choir, travelling overland on the Ernabella truck around Victoria and South Australia on the ‘Singing Walkabout’ tour, and sang for the Queen in Adelaide in 1954. He also travelled to Fiji with the choir in 1979.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s Kunmanara was involved in the Land Rights movement, self-government and the development of many anangu organisations, including the Pitjantjatjara Council.

In 1980, he hosted the very first NPY Women’s Council meeting at his homeland. While the meeting was for women only, he supported them by catching rabbits and collecting firewood. He remained a vocal supporter of NPY Women’s Council and strongly supported many of the women’s aspirations, most notably their stand against domestic violence and campaigns against alcohol and petrol sniffing.

In 1981, anangu won freehold land rights to their country through the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act, a significant milestone for indigenous people worldwide. Kunmanara was front and centre of this important struggle

On 26 October 1985 he danced Wati Kirkinpa at the Uluru and Kata Tjuta National Park handback. In 1991 he danced Wati Kirkinpa at the new APY offices at Umuwa, celebrating 10 years of Land Rights. Gerry Hand and Robert Tickner were there, as Ministers of Aboriginal Affairs. Kunmanara was always at the front of important events and ceremonies.

In the late 1980s through the 1990s Kunmanara worked with his extended family at Angatja, Charlie Ilyatjari, Nganyinytja, Tjulkiwa and Sandy Mutju, to develop the first Anangu owned cross cultural tourism company Desert Tracks. He served on the Board of Directors and was a senior guide taking great pride in explaining the importance of Anangu Tjukurpa of country to visitors from all over Australia and the world. Kunmanara was the lead singer of the Ngintaka Inma recorded by forty Anangu at the Angatja Inma Festival in 1994, he and the other elders made a CD of this story and song cycle for future generations. He cared deeply about handing on knowledge and keeping tradition strong.

Throughout his life, Kunmanara continued to work as an ngangkari, helping anangu all over Central Australia. In 1999, NPY Women’s Council employed Kunmanara and his friend and brother-in-law Rupert Peter in a new project that aimed to promote the value and importance of ngangkari. Kunmanara and his brother in law travelled all over the communities of Central Australia, treating anangu wherever they were asked to go. They also visited anangu who were away from home in hospitals, hostels, jails, nursing homes and mental health units in towns and cities. They were a much loved team, in great demand and welcomed where ever they went.

Kunmanara and his brother in law, along with the NPYWC directors, could see that many people in the western health system didn’t understand the way that ngangkari worked. He set out to change this, and began travelling all over Australia, talking about his work and the importance of ngangkari and anangu culture. He was a really powerful, strong and confident public speaker, and everyone loved to listen to him. As a team, Kunmanara and his brother in law became inspiring speakers about their work, and in this way they had a huge impact on the way that ngangkari were understood outside Central Australia.

In recognition of this achievement, Kunmanara, his brother in law and the NPYWC ngangkari project won many awards. In 2009 he won the Mark Sheldon Prize from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, and the Dr Margaret Tobin Award for excellence in mental health service delivery. In 2011 he was awarded the International Sigmund Freud prize from the City of Vienna, at the World Congress of Psychotherapy in Sydney. He was very proud of these awards, which he saw as acknowledgement of the value and importance of ngangkari and anangu culture.

Kunmanara was also an editor of two books NPY Women’s Council produced about ngangkari. He listened to every contribution, selected the photos, and made all the big decisions. He was especially strong on the importance of ngangkari speaking for themselves in these books, as they did in public. The most recent book, ‘Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari’ has been reprinted many times, and has won several awards, including a Deadly Award for book of the year in 2013.

Kunmanara had a special relationship with the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, over many years. He travelled with them to Canada, New Zealand and Hawaii, as well as all over Australia, and met indigenous doctors from all over the world. He loved to support and encourage indigenous medical students and doctors, as he strongly believed they were on the same healing path as ngangkari.

Kunmanara lived through huge change in his life time. He was very concerned about the impact of all these changes on anangu life and culture, and in particular what this meant for young anangu people. He was passionate about helping young people find their way, and of the value of anangu law and culture in providing a straight and guiding path.

Kunmanara was a kind, gentle, strong man, a wise leader, a role model and mentor, a great healer with an enormous knowledge of land, law and culture, a sharp and optimistic mind, and a big, generous, loving heart.

Kunmanara had an amazing, long, full and rich life. He effortlessly bridged many different worlds, in a way that made him deeply loved and appreciated, wherever he was, by whoever he was with.

He is always with us.