Anangu people of Western desert language groups (Pitjantjatjara / Yankunytjatjara) are the traditional owners of the coastal lands, undulating plains and the deserts regions surrounding the Nullarbor. Wirangu occupied the land east of the Head of Bight and the Mirning clans occupied the coast west to Eucla. Kokata, Antakarinja and Ngalea occupied lands to the north and north-east.
Radiocarbon dating of cooking hearths and stone implements provides evidence for human settlement on the Nullarbor Plains 40,000 years ago. Allen’s cave located on the western plains is the oldest archaeological site in arid Australia. There are 60 known archaeological sites on the Nullarbor revealing hand prints, paintings and flint tools. Early Anangu settlers mined a band of minerals found between the limestone formations to extract and trade a hard and brittle chert that was used to make cutting tools.
Today, Anangu are widely dispersed and many live in local population centres. Traditional groups were persuasively removed from their lands and settled on missions after the Government gained control of the lands and pastoralists took up leases from the late 1800’s. Further dislocation occurred during the 1950’s when groups occupying the Maralinga Tjarutja lands were evicted as authorities acquired the land for conducting the now infamous Maralinga atomic bomb tests.
Anangu living on the traditional lands and remote communities practice traditional custom and their spiritual beliefs remain strong. In the summer, family groups move north to attend traditional ceremonies. Game meat (kuka) remains an important food in the diet of local people and Anangu hunt kangaroos (malu), bush turkey (kilpara) and wombat (wadu).
Anangu artists produce unique paintings and carvings.