Linda Syddick was a Pintupi woman who was born at Lake MacKay in the Gibson Desert, WA, in 1937. She passed away in July 2021. Her Aboriginal name was Tjunkiya Wukula Napaltjarri. Linda was raised in the traditional nomadic fashion until the age of eight or nine when her family walked out of the desert and decided to settle at the Lutheran Mission at Haasts Bluff, NT.
Linda’s paintings were inspired by both her traditional nomadic life in the desert and the Dreamings of her father and step-father. Linda’s father was Rintje Tjungurrayi and was he killed by a revenge spearing party in accordance with customary Law when Linda was about eighteen months old; she was subsequently brought up by her stepfather, artist Lankata Shorty Tjungurrayi. Before Lankata died in 1985, he instructed Linda to carry on his work and paint his Dreamings. And so it was that in 1986 Linda was taught the art of painting by her two Uncles Uta Uta Tjangala and Nosepeg Tjupurrula.
Linda often painted the Dreaming story of the Tingari and the Emu Men. The Emu Men were ancestral beings who roamed the landscape during the Dreamtime or Creation Period. The Emu was the totem of her father, Rintje Tjungurrayi and step father, Langkata Shorty Tjungurrayi. The Tingari were ancestral spirit beings, who went on very long journeys, creating much of the desert landscape in Central Australia, and instructing the people about law and custom.
Linda painted the country mostly around Lake MacKay, which has been central to the cultural and spiritual life of the Pintupi people for thousands of years. People used to camp around its shores during their seasonal journeys and gather there for ceremonies. Lake MacKay was where Linda was born and travelled for most of her early childhood. it is a large dry salt lake which straddles the WA-NT border, north-west of Kintore. Occasionally it fills with water and becomes blue, ‘like sea water’. When this occurs birds and animals flock to the area.
Linda incorporates many perspectives and stories into a single painting. The land and country are always portrayed in an aerial perspective, the way of traditional Pintupi sand paintings, but the figures are painted straight on, like they would appear if painted on a cave wall. The spirits that Linda paints are very important and are based on the spirits that are depicted in the rock art at Tjindara, a place deep into WA from Lake MacKay which is often visited by Pintupi people. These paintings are reputed to be more than fifteen thousand years old.
These notes are courtesy of Japingka Gallery, Fremantle, WA.
Walking an epic journey of 350km from Lake Mackay in the Gibson Desert into the mission settlement of Haasts Bluff in the east was the beginning of a major change in the life of Linda Syddick. It was 1945 and Linda was 8 years old. Her family had made the journey on foot, at a time following her own father’s death in a revenge spearing in the desert. The rigours of that long trek were severe – water was often scarce, and the party had to cross the endless rows of sandhills as they mved towards the east. Linda’s stepfather Shorty Lankata had some experience of the European ways. He had been enlisted in the army, and had seen the settlements and townships. When the other desert people first encountered the settlements they were afraid of the strange sights. The clanking windmills drawing up artesian water were feared as devil-devils, and the flowing water was thought to be poisonous. But the strong Pintupi law that the desert dwellers brought with them was to remain a strength, along with their family and clan loyalty. In times to come, Linda’s father Shorty Lankata, and her uncles Uta Uta Tjungala and Nosepeg Tjupurrula, powerful men of tradition, were to go on to participate in the art movement of the 1970’s that revealed the otherwise hidden cultural world of the Pintupi. These senior men also taught Linda Syddick to paint, and she began her own artistic journey in 1986. Linda developed a distinctive style in which she included spirit figures into her paintings. She became one of a very small number of desert artists who represent the spirits of Dreaming ancestors as well as the spirits of relatives and other Beings. Hence she is able to paint the story of her own family’s journey out of the desert, desperate always to find enough water, and to include in it the story of the Emu men of her father’s Dreaming, who also nearly perished in the desert. When she’s painting, Linda becomes the people in the painting. She speaks with them, and records their story. She goes back in time and place to the events that she is painting about. The oral tradition of Linda Syddick’s nomadic Pintupi heritage, with its rich storytelling history, comes through in her paintings.