The Community of Ampilatwatja (pronounced um-bludder-witch) is the largest of three communities under the Aherrenge Aboriginal Association. It is located about 320 km north-east of Alice Springs and has a population of about 350 people who are predominantly of the Alyawarr language group.
Ampilatwatja is in the heart of Alyawarr land on the Sandover Highway. The Alyawarr people have always lived there and have travelled between soaks in the hot weather and have close ties to the people who live at Lake Nash.
The first European in the region was Charles Winnecke, a surveyor, who passed through in 1877. Although the Alyawarr people were shy of the Europeans, Winnecke’s expedition needed their help to find water in the desert, although they were not always careful with what they found and were known to waste water.
In 1940, the land around Ampilatwatja, under the name of Ammaroo Station, was taken by Nugget Morton (who was connected to the infamous 1928 Coniston Massacre of between 30 and 60 people). The property subsequently changed hands a number of times and it was not until the mid-1980s that a small excision was made for the Alyawarr people. In the 1990s, with the return of Utopia Station to traditional ownership, the Alyawarr people of Ampilatwatja made a claim for their traditional homelands. As Banjo Morton says: “We never moved from this country... This is our father’s father’s country. We can’t leave it!”
In 1999, a community arts centre was established, under the banner Artists of Ampilatwatja. This has provided the community with the means to increase economic opportunities, while, at the same time, reinforcing the value of the Alyawarr people’s culture.
The artworks produced at Ampilatwatja maintain a strong focus on Alyawarr lore, with a particular emphasis on the natural landscape. The artists’ work is distinguished by the microcosmic detail invested in elements of landscape, all of which is marked out in the finest of dot painting, using a rich palette of colours.
Ampilatwatja artists have exhibited only moderately over the past decade, but their work remains instantly recognizable and has found representation in national and international private collections.