Friday, August 03, 2007

The Aboriginal Romeo And Juliet

This story was told on SBS a few weeks back through a short documentary, with some stunning historical footage of the couple discussed below.

Why this beautiful and sad story of love, tradition and incredible survival in the harsh Australian outback has never been made into a full-scale movie, starring many of the superb indigenous actors, is beyond explanation.

From the UK Independent :

They were an Aboriginal Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers who eloped into the desert because tribal law forbade them from marrying. And for 40 years they roamed, living off kangaroo meat and bush fruit, happy with their own company and the red landscape.

Warri and Yatungka were perhaps Australia's last nomads, leading a traditional lifestyle long after their Mandildjara tribe gravitated to urban settlements. They abandoned the desert only in 1977, when a severe drought dried up the waterholes, and tribal elders, anxious for their welfare, sent out a search party.

Warri and Yatungka met in the 1930s, but were from different "skin groups", so their relationship breached tribal law. Rather than separate, they ran away together. They had three children.

By the 1960s, with mining companies and pastoralists encroaching on their land, most Mandildjara moved to towns such as Warburton and Wiluna. British nuclear tests conducted in the Outback during the 1950s had also blunted Aborigines' desire to live in the desert. But Warri and Yatungka stayed there, leading a solitary existence, apart from occasional encounters with tribe members and white anthropologists.

It was not until the drought that they struggled to survive. It took the search party, led by an Aboriginal tracker, Mudjon, and a white explorer, Bill Peasley, several weeks to find them.

The couple were naked and stick-thin. As well as having to walk for days to find water, they had not eaten meat for a long time. Warri had a leg injury and could not hunt.

The couple, still inseparable, were close to starvation. They agreed to come into town, although they feared they might be punished. In fact, the elders had forgiven them.

However, Warri and Yatungka yearned for their peripatetic existence, which was how Aborigines had lived for 40,000 years.

In 1979 they died within weeks of each other.

A remarkable story, and a unique portrait of shared Aboriginal and Australian history.