Two Sisters: Ngarta and Jukuna
Ngarta Jinny Bent, Jukuna Mona Chuguna and Pat Lowe
Eirlys Richards (translator)
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2004 ISBN:1 92073 126 1
Two Sisters is the unique story of two Walmajarri sisters, Ngarta and Jukuna who also happen to be the nieces of well-known but now belated artist Jimmy Pike. Jukuna, the elder sister wrote her life story in her own language is translated by Eirlys Richards and Ngarta’s story is told by Pat Lowe. Thankfully there’s a glossary and a pronunciation guide for those of us who will at least try to pronounce some words.
The sisters were born in the Great Sandy Desert as their stories revolved around their lives travelling as hunters and gatherers and life in the desert. They grew up in a time of great upheaval when desert people where leaving their country and heading north to a new life on cattle stations. And what was happening outside their communities during much of their lives had little meaning. The Queen’s visit in 1953, the Vietnam War, the Melbourne Olympics, all came and went without a murmur of such events in the Great Sandy Desert.
There is no real concept of ‘modern time’ for them. That is, time post-industrialisation, as we know it. And so there is no concept of time for the reader. We do learn though that people gauge ages by their ability to hunt food and we read of the first time that Ngarta tracks a fox for the first time, a sign of her reaching adolescence, and her grandmother cried with pride.
It is a book about the complexities of family relations, marriage customs, death rituals and grieving, and survival. And it is not for the faint hearted, given the amount of death the reader is told about, particularly at the hands of “two guilty men”. If nothing else, the reader learns of the process of grieving for the Walmajarri peoples.
But e also read about the bush foods that sustain them in the great sandy desert – foods like goanna, kangaroos, snakes, feral cats, dingoes, foxes, fruits, seeds, bush onions and the like.
There is a selection of beautiful artwork in the centre of the book, distinguishing between the two stories, and they focus on country with particular references to the life-sustaining waterholes they talk about.
Ngarta died in 2002 but her sister Jukuna continues to paint and write stories.
Reviewed by Anita Heiss