Professor Wanta Pawu

Professor Wantarri 'Wanta' Pawu is fully initiated into Warlpiri law and was admitted to the highest order of traditional leadership by the Warlpiri elders in 2008.

In the 1980s, he graduated from the Warlpiri sky ceremonies, giving Wanta the responsibility to look after his father’s and his mother’s father’s songlines. In addition to being the custodian of these ceremonies and Country, Wanta is the guardian of his father’s mother’s and mother’s mother’s songlines.

Wanta’s homeland is Pawu (Mt Barkley) and he also has the responsibility to look after the remote Dreaming plain known as Kulpulurnu (Rain Dreaming). Wanta is the senior male leader of his clan and represents them within the broader Kurdiji corporation.

He is a highly sought-after public speaker and cultural advisor of international repute, who has directed numerous films including Milpirri: Winds of Change (2014), which presently screens on SBS OnDemand.

He is the only Warlpiri investigator to have led an ARC project. Wanta Patrick is one of the most senior and well-respected Warlpiri Elders and holds uniquely rare and exceptional knowledge of Warlpiri law and culture in the Tanami Desert, which is an emerging area of interest for the Indigenous Knowledge Institute and other Indigenous programs within the University.

He holds long-term research collaborations with colleagues at the University of Melbourne in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music and Faculty of Science, as well as with academics at other universities around the world.

Wanta’s appointment as a Fellow through this scheme will bring urgently needed understanding through his project of how, in Indigenous law, rare traditional knowledge and cultural practice of songlines connect distant groups across the Australian continent. In many places, this knowledge has been lost as have the necessary skills and expertise to track songlines.


Cooking the kangaroo: wisdom and connection

For Wanta Jampijinpa Patrick, ‘Knowledge is like a track – you have to follow it and find where it is going. You have to find the food and feed on that.’ Across Indigenous Australia, ceremonial narratives feed people with wisdom and generate connections between groups. Tracking different cooking practices related to the kangaroo, this conversation between ceremonial leaders from Arnhem Land, the Tanami Desert and NSW, seeks the nourishment of wisdom which comes through difference and responsibility. ‘These things are normal when it comes to cooking, but they are more than that. There is a mystery we don’t know until we start listening to Country, until you listen to the songlines. Why do you cook the kangaroo this way? Let’s see what we can discover about this mystery.’

This presentation opened the Cooking the Kangaroo: Conversations on Indigenous Song, Spirituality, and Connection webinar, which was held within the 20th Symposium on Indigenous Music and Dance, in association with the Musicological Society of Australia’s 44th National Conference.

Professor Wanta Pawu: "Cooking the kangaroo: Shaping mutual responsibility through songlines"

This presentation will examine Aboriginal songlines as a way of exploring connections between diverse people and places across Australia, using traditional Indigenous methods of inquiry. It will reflect critically on songlines as a strategy for shaping shared identities and mutual responsibility between diverse peoples in Australia.

The presentation was part of the 2022 International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples Symposium.