The Pitjantjatjara (English: /pɪənəˈɑːrə/,[1] Aboriginal pronunciation: [ˈpɪɟanɟaɟaɾa] or [ˈpɪɟanɟaɾa]) are an Aboriginal people of the Central Australian desert. They are closely related to the Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra and their languages are, to a large extent, mutually intelligible (all are varieties of the Western Desert language).

Pitjantjatjara ranger at Uluru
Regions with significant populations
Central Australia:approx. 4,000
English (Australian English, Australian Aboriginal English)
Traditional & Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Ngaanyatjarra, Yankunytjatjara

They refer to themselves as Anangu (people). The Pitjantjatjara live mostly in the northwest of South Australia, extending across the border into the Northern Territory to just south of Lake Amadeus, and west a short distance into Western Australia. The land is an inseparable and important part of their identity, and every part of it is rich with stories and meaning to Anangu.[2]

They have, for the most part, given up their nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle but have retained their language and much of their culture in spite of increasing influences from the broader Australian community.

Today there are still about 4,000 Anangu living scattered in small communities and outstations across their traditional lands, forming one of the most successful joint land arrangements in Australia with Aboriginal Traditional Owners.


The ethnonym Pitjantjatjara is usually pronounced (in normal, fast speech) with elision of one of the repeated syllables -tja-, thus: pitjantjara. In more careful speech all syllables will be pronounced.[3]


The name Pitjantjatjara derives from the word pitjantja, a nominalised form of the verb "go" (equivalent to the English "going" used as a noun). Combined with the comitative suffix -tjara, it means something like "pitjantja-having" (i.e. the variety that uses the word pitjantja for "going"). This distinguishes it from its near neighbour Yankunytjatjara which has yankunytja for the same meaning.[4] This naming strategy is also the source of the names of Ngaanyatjarra and Ngaatjatjarra but in that case the names contrast the two languages based on their words for "this" (respectively, ngaanya and ngaatja). The two languages Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara may be grouped together under the name Nyangatjatjara (indicating that they have nyangatja for "this") which then contrasts them with Ngaanyatjarra and Ngaatjatjarra.[3]


Pitjantjatjara language is used as a general term for a number of closely related dialects which together, according to Ronald Trudinger were "spoken over a wider area of Australia than any other Aboriginal language".[5] With Yankunytjatjara it shares an 80% overlap in vocabulary.[4]

Some major communities

See WARU community directory[6] for a complete list


A 73,000-square-kilometre (28,000 sq mi) tract of land was established in the north west of South Australia for the Pitjantjatjara in 1921 after they lost much land due to hostile encroachment by hunters and ranchers.

Extended droughts in the 1920s and between 1956 and 1965 in their homelands in the Great Victoria and Gibson Deserts led many Pitjantjatjara, and their traditionally more westerly relations, the Ngaanyatjarra, to move east towards the railway between Adelaide and Alice Springs in search of food and water, thus mixing with the most easterly of the three, the Yankunytjatjara. They refer to themselves as Anangu, which originally just meant people in general, but has now come to imply an Aboriginal person or, more specifically, a member of one of the groups that speaks a variety of the Western Desert Language.

In response to continuing outside pressures on the Anangu, the South Australian Government gave its support to a plan by the Presbyterian Church to set up the Ernabella Mission in the Musgrave Ranges as a safe haven. This mission, largely due to the actions of their advocate, Dr. Charles Duguid, was ahead of the times in that there was no systematic attempt to destroy Aboriginal culture, as was common on many other missions.

From 1950 onwards, many Anangu were forced to leave their homelands due to British nuclear tests at Maralinga. Some Anangu were subsequently contaminated by the nuclear fallout from the atomic tests, and many have died as a consequence.[7] Their experience of issues of land rights and native title in South Australia has been unique. After four years of campaigning and negotiations with government and mining groups, the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act was passed on 19 March 1981, granting freehold title over 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi) of land in the northwestern corner of South Australia.

The Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act, 1984 (SA) granted freehold title of an area of 80,764 km2 (31,183 sq mi) to Maralinga Tjarutja.[8] The subsequently named Mamungari Conservation Park) with 21,357.8 km2 (8,246.3 sq mi) was transferred to the Maralinga Tjarutja in 2004.

Recognition of sacred sites

The sacred sites of Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) possess important spiritual and ceremonial significance for the Anangu with more than forty named sacred sites and eleven separate Tjukurpa (or "Dreaming") tracks in the area, some of which lead as far as the sea. Ayers Rock and The Olgas are separated from the Pitjantjatjara Lands by the border between the Northern Territory and South Australia and have become a major tourist attraction and a National Park. The Central Land Council laid claim to the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park and some adjoining vacant Crown land in 1979, but this claim was challenged by the Northern Territory government.

After years of intensive lobbying by the Land Council, on 11 November 1983, Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that the Federal Government intended to transfer inalienable freehold title to them. He agreed to ten main points they had demanded in exchange for a lease-back arrangement to the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service in a "joint-management" régime where Anangu would have a majority on the Board of Management. This was implemented in 1985, after further negotiations extended the lease period from 50 to 99 years and agreement was reached on the retention of tourists' access to Ayers Rock.

The Arrernte land is aboriginal land in central Australia. It is controlled by Arrernte Council which in turn is controlled by Central Land Council from Alice Springs.

Notable people

See also

  • Wiltja, a shelter made by the Pitjantjatjara people and other indigenous Australian groups



    1. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
    2. Kimber 1986, chapter 12.
    3. Goddard 1985.
    4. Goddard 2010, p. 871.
    5. Trudinger 1943, p. 205.
    6. WARU community directory.
    7. Tame & Robotham 1982.
    8. Government of South Australia.


    • Bates, Daisy (1918). "Aborigines of the West Coast of South Australia; vocabularies and ethnological notes". Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. Adelaide. 42: 152–167.
    • Berndt, Ronald M. (September 1941). "Tribal Migrations and Myths Centring on Ooldea, South Australia". Oceania. 12 (1): 1–20. JSTOR 40327930.
    • Duguid, Charles (1972). Doctor and the Aborigines. Rigby. ISBN 0-85179-411-4.
    • Fry, H. K. (June 1934). "Kinship in Western Central Australia". Oceania. 4 (4): 472–478. JSTOR 27976165.
    • Glass, Amee; Hackett, Dorothy (1979). Ngaanyatjarra texts. New Revised edition of Pitjantjatjara texts (1969). Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. ISBN 0-391-01683-0.
    • Goddard, Cliff (1985). A Grammar of Yankunytjatjara. Institute for Aboriginal Development Press. ISBN 0-949659-32-0.
    • Goddard, Cliff (1996). Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara to English Dictionary. Alice Springs: IAD Press. ISBN 0-949659-91-6.
    • Goddard, Cliff (2010). "Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara". In Brown, Keith; Ogilvie, Sarah (eds.). Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World. Elsevier. pp. 871–876. ISBN 978-0-080-87775-4.
    • Hilliard, Winifred M. (1976) [First published 1968]. The People in Between: The Pitjantjatjara People of Ernabella. Seal Books. ISBN 0-7270-0159-0. (reprint)
    • Isaacs, Jennifer (1992). Desert Crafts: Anangu Maruku Punu. Doubleday. ISBN 0-86824-474-0.
    • Kavanagh, Maggie (1990). Minyma Tjuta Tjunguringkula Kunpuringanyi: Women Growing Strong Together. Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara Women's Council 1980-1990. ISBN 0-646-02068-4.
    • Kimber, R. G. (1986). Man from Arltunga. Carlisle: Hesperian Press. chapter 12.
    • "Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act 1984". Government of South Australia, Attorney-General's Department. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
    • Tame, Adrian; Robotham, F.P.J. (1982). MARALINGA: British A-Bomb Australian Legacy. Melbourne: Fontana / Collins. ISBN 0-00-636391-1.
    • Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Pitjandjara (SA)". Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Australian National University Press. ISBN 978-0-708-10741-6.
    • Toyne, Phillip; Vachon, Daniel (1984). Growing Up the Country: The Pitjantjatjara struggle for their land. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-007641-7.
    • Trudinger, Ronald M. (March 1943). "Grammar of the Pitjantjatjara Dialect, Central Australia". Oceania. 13 (3): 205–223. JSTOR 40327992.
    • Wallace, Phil; Wallace, Noel (1977). Killing Me Softly: The Destruction of a Heritage. Melbourne: Thomas Nelson. ISBN 0-17-005153-6.
    • "WARU community directory". Archived from the original on 15 January 2016.
    • Woenne-Green, Susan; Johnston, Ross; Sultan, Ros; Wallis, Arnold (1993). Competing Interests: Aboriginal Participation in National Parks and Conservation Reserves in Australia - A Review. Fitzroy, Victoria: Australian Conservation Foundation. ISBN 0-85802-113-7.
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