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Linda Syddick Napaltjarri


The witch doctor and the windmill  | 60h x 60w | RK195

Not stretched or framed  |  Acrylic on canvas

Linda Syddick Napaltjarri (c.1937-2021) was a Pintupi woman from the Gibson Desert in Western Australia. Her Aboriginal name is Tjunkiya Wukula Napaltjarri, she was the daughter of Wanala Nangala and Rintja Tjungurrayi. Linda lived a traditional nomadic life with her people until the age of about eight, at this time her family walked out of the desert and decided to settle at the Lutheran Mission at Haasts Bluff, in the Northern Territory.

Linda's paintings were inspired by both her traditional nomadic life in the desert, and the Dreaming of her father and stepfather. Linda's father was killed by a revenge spearing party in accordance with Customary Law when Linda was about eighteen months old; her stepfather, artist Lankata Shorty Tjungurrayi, subsequently brought her up. Before Lungkata died in 1985, he instructed Linda to carry on his work and paint his Dreaming. And so, in 1986, her two Uncles Uta Uta Tjangala and Nosepeg Tjupurrula taught Linda the art of painting. Her mother later married artist Shorty Lungkarta Tjungarrayi. His work was a significant influence on Linda's painting. Linda married several times, and still uses the family name of her second husband Musty Syddick (Cedick).

Linda collected the stories from her life into a series of images that represent the major turning points in her journey. 'The Witchdoctor and the Windmill' is a story that Linda loved to paint. It documents the first contact some of her family group had with European settlement, when in 1945, they walked out of their Pintupi homelands near Lake MacKay in the Gibson Desert, WA, heading east for Haasts Bluff Mission. Linda was eight years old at the time and the 350 kilometres they travelled was largely over rugged sandhill terrain. As they were walking along, on of their group, the Nangkari, a highly respected medicine man and healer, and his two wives, had lagged behind a little as they approached Mt Liebig.  The Nangkari, an elderly man by then, lay down and had a sleep, not seeing the windmill before he closed his eyes. His wives, however, saw it whirring around, and not knowing what it was, took off into the bush screaming. 

Upon waking, the Nangkari, who had had no experience of white people, also saw the windmill with its vanes flailing in the wind and making a mighty roaring noise. He took it to be the evil spirit, Mamu. To protect his people, he started throwing spears at it, but they just bounced back. He then used his magic powers and produced stones from his body to throw at it, but they, too, failed to stop it. Finally, noticing that the Nangkari and his wives weren’t among the group, Linda’s step-father, Shorty Langkata Tjungurrayi, the owner of many Dreaming stories and also a magic man, walked back to find the missing trio. Shorty already had experience of white settlement and knew that windmills were machines that drew water up from the ground. He managed to convince the Nangkari that it wasn’t the Devil Devil but that it was a device that provided good water. The Nangkari, eventually pacified, drank some of the water, and satisfied that it was good, was happy, and the family group travelled on. 

Linda painted all the elements of this story in different canvases, showing the whirring blades of the windmill, the Old Nangkari man and her step-father, the spears and other items that they carried with them in from the desert. Nearby the family group is camped, shown using traditional symbols. All around the central motifs are the Sandhills of the desert, showing where the group of people have travelled from. 

Sadly, Linda passed away in 2021 and will be greatly missed.

 Please Note: This Artist passed away in 2021 and out of respect for Aboriginal culture, we have removed the photograph of this Artist holding this artwork from our website.

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