Warburton
Collage of Warburton.

Want to get right away from everything? The middle of nowhere, The Back o' Burke, The Never Never, The Outback? Warburton could be the town for you.

The nearest West Australian town to Warburton is Laverton at 566km. It's a dirt track, usually reasonably well maintained but it's often closed after rain. Yulara is the Northern Territory option at 550km. Again the journey is over the Great Central Road - more dirt that requires a travel permit to cross aboriginal lands. And if you live in Warburton then there's no point heading to either of them. Neither Laverton or Yulara are what you would call major centres and there's nothing at either town that you can't get in Warburton. Unless you want a beer that is. Warburton is dry.

The town is owned and run by the Ngaanyatjarra people of the Central Desert and the rules here are slightly different than Melbourne and Sydney. For one you'll need a permit to traverse the Great Central Road. Secondly you won't be able to buy unleaded fuel for your car or 4WD. You'll be buying 'Opal' - a low-aromatic petrol designed to combat petrol sniffing in remote communities. Oh, and you'll be paying through the nose for the privilege.

Thirdly, no grog. As we said Warburton is dry which means you can't buy alcohol in the town and you can't drink alcohol in the town.

Finally no photographs without permission. Think about it, you're back at home in London or Amsterdam and a complete stranger starts taking holiday snapshots of you and your kids. It's not because aboriginal people think the image will 'steal their souls'. That is an old wives tale, it's because it's rude and intrusive. Ask permission and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Tourists come to Warburton for the aboriginal arts and the cultural experience. Other than that they are passing through to Uluru in the N.T. or the goldfields in W.A.

The Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku is home to ten communities who are based over an area of nearly 160,00km - larger than England. England has a population of 53 million while the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku has a population of around 1500 with a third located in Warburton. Ninety percent of the people in town are aboriginal and ninety percent of those speak Ngaanyatjarraku or a dialect from the various language groups.

The Central Desert people were nomads who travelled to find food and water. You have to be tough to run barefoot around the Gibson Desert trying to spear a kangaroo for your dinner. Seriously tough.

The missionaries changed that. In 1933 Will Wade and his family moved to Warburton on behalf of the United Anglican Mission - 'an Evangelical Christian ministry to the Aboriginal People of Australia'. The Ngaanyatjarraku people were living a mostly traditional life supplemented by the occasional station work and the sale of dingo scalps when dingoes still attracted a bounty payment. The last traditional desert people, the Pintubi, finally came out of the Gibson Desert in 1984. They were still hunting with spears and boomerangs and wore nothing but hair string belts.

The Pintubi who lived farther northeast of Warburton were moved into Northern Territory communities. The attraction for the Ngaanyatjarraku people to come into the mission was basically an easier food source and a free babysitting service. The missionaries offered a schooling service for the kids.

It was known as the Warburton Mission or Baker Home and in 1954 there were 700 children living there. Unlike many indigenous stories Warburton wasn't based on forced institutionalism or government intervention. No one was compelled to live at the mission and no children were removed from their families by force. By all accounts the kids enjoyed it.

The United Aborigines Mission handed the Warburton settlement to the local indigenous population in 1973 where it has been run by the Ngaanyatjarraku Council. The W.A. Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority is responsible for economic development.

Few tourists visit Warburton just to see the town. The Great Central Road is one of Australia's classic outback road trips and many people take the opportunity to visit the various art and craft galleries of the region. It's also an opportunity to get up close to an extremely remote region of Australia and witness the red sands and big blue skies of the Australian interior.


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