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Wanampi (Water serpents)

Billy Cooley
Iṯaṟa ~ River red gum
23.5 x 18 x 158 cm; 22 x 65 x 124 cm
Maruku Arts


Wanampi are powerful creatures that inhabit and guard over waterholes. Local custodians hold the stories of the ancestors’ activities at specific sites across the Country and thus know where the Wanampi are located. These ancestors are always treated with special reverence and respect for their powers and waterholes are never approached lightly. Billy Cooley began carving when he was working as a stockman at Mulga Park Station where he also met his Pitjantjatjara wife. Making kali or boomerangs from the desert mulga trees to start with, he remembers watching some of the older people crafting snakes from flat pieces of wood. With the idea of recreating something more of the drama of the liru, he began to look out for naturally occurring serpent forms in the roots and branches he came across in the landscape with a keen eye for interesting roots or peculiar twists of wood in which lie the sinuous coils of hidden movement. Wanting to make his work as lifelike as possible, he made careful study of the different scale patterns of desert serpents to replicate with his walka. Although they are inspired by the desert species he lives with, he explains it’s from his mother’s Country at Boorooloola that he is related to the Water Serpent Dreaming. This pair of snakes reflect the different shades of wood, just like snakes have different shades of colour.

Desert Mob is presented annually in Mparntwe | Alice Springs on Arrernte Country.

On behalf of Desart’s staff and art centre members, the Executive Committee humbly and respectfully acknowledge the Arrernte Apmereke Artweye (Traditional Owners) and Kwertengerle (Traditional Managers) of Mparntwe.


Desart respectfully advises Aboriginal readers that this website may contain names, images and artworks of people who have passed away.