For much of his life, Jerry Jangala OAM has bridged the gap between Warlpiri and mainstream Australia.

Story Anthony Ham   Photo Peter Eve

Sometime in the mid-1940s, a young Warlpiri boy named Jerry Jikilripa Jangala was travelling across the Tanami Desert with his family. At a place called Thompson Rockhole, which the Warlpiri call Pirdipirdi, they encountered a party of white people. At the time, World War II was drawing to its conclusion, and among the party was Olive Pink, the renowned botanist and explorer. 

But Jerry knew nothing of such things. He had never seen a white person before and didn’t know about the world beyond the desert. He couldn’t stop staring. “I was looking at her from foot to head,” he remembers. “Later, she had flour, tea and sugar and even watermelon and corned beef. The treacle reminded me of the sugarbag from the trees. I liked the treacle, but my mother stopped me or I would have eaten it all.”

Sixty years later, in 2004, Australia’s Governor-General Michael Jeffery would award the Order of Australia Medal to the older version of that little boy who once marvelled at the miracle of treacle in a forgotten corner of the Tanami. In the intervening years, his life would build bridges between various peoples and the land on which they lived.

This story excerpt is from Issue #147

Outback Magazine: February/March 2023