Wirrimanu Balgo2019-01-30T07:33:48+00:00

Balgo, previously Balgo Hills and Balgo Mission, is a community in Western Australia that is linked with both the Great Sandy Desert and the Tanami Desert. The community is in the Shire of Halls Creek, off the Tanami Road, and was established by German missionaries in 1939. In the 2021 census Balgo's population numbered 430.


The community was established following the arrival of German Pallottine Catholic missionaries in the region in 1939. Following the outbreak of World War II, the Australian government designated the missionaries "enemy aliens" and their radio transmitter and firearms were confiscated by police.[4] After earlier sites proved to be unsatisfactory, the present site was chosen, in 1942.[5]

The settlement was funded by the federal government as an outstation during the 1980s, along with Yagga Yagga outstation.[6]

Indigenous people and language

The name Balgo may have been derived from the Kukatja language word palkurr-palkurr, meaning rice grass, which grows nearby. The Kukatja dialect of the Western Desert Language is the first language for many people at Balgo, with the name deriving from the Kukatja (Gugadja) people. There is a Kukatja dictionary published by Luurnpa Catholic School, and at the school's Walkala Centre, audio books are created in both Kukatja and English.[7]

Balgo is a multicultural community of Aboriginal peoples, with seven other language groups besides Kukatja represented: there are Ngardi, Djaru, Warlpiri, Walmajarri, Wangkajunga, Pintupi and Ngaatjatjarra residents.[8]

In 2019, scientists from the University of Queensland were undertaking a research project on the Kukatja language, the local lingua franca which is fluently spoken "by residents of all ages and across at least seven tribal groups". Researchers were recording conversations and mapping the language, believing that Kukatja could provide clues to how languages are spread around the world. Dr Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia believed that the mission, as in other places such as the Amazon and West Africa could be the common thread, bringing different ethnic groups together in isolated spots. Work was being done on developing a dictionary and teacher's guide.[9]


During the 1980s, Balgo became famous for its artists' cooperative which was established when some of the original members of the Papunya Tula movement were allowed to leave Papunya. Some of the artists from Balgo include Susie Bootja Bootja Napaltjarri, Topsy Gibson Napaljarri, Eubena Nampitjin, Elizabeth Nyumi, Boxer Milner, Tjumpo (Bill) Tjapanangka and "Helicopter" Tjungurrayi.[10]

Warlayirti Artists Aboriginal Corporation was established in Balgo 1987, and represents more than 300 artists in Balgo, Kururrungku (Billiluna), and Mulan, who work in a variety of media and styles.[8][11] The art centre, which is the oldest of its kind in Western Australia, celebrated its 35th anniversary with a special exhibition, Ngurra Kutjuwarra (On Country Together), in August 2022, after being isolated for most of the two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. As of 2022 the manager is UK-born Poppy Leaver. John Carty of the South Australian Museum has had a relationship with Warlayirti Arts since around 2002.[12]

In the early 1980sm a group of Kukatja and Warlpiri men in Balgo painted their stories on wooden boards, which somehow disappeared for years.[12] In 2019, more than 20 of these works by were discovered by chance in a sea container in Wyndham, 50 km (31 mi) away. After the South Australian Museum (SAM) was advised of the find, the paintings, which were in very poor condition, were carefully restored by Artlab Australia in Adelaide. In October 2021 they were included in an exhibition at the museum called Balgo Beginnings, which also included new works by descendants of the original artists. Sales of a monograph, Balgo: Creating Country, by John Carty of the SAM, was launched along with the exhibition, with royalties being donated towards providing a dialysis service in Balgo.[13]


The community is managed by Wirrimanu Aboriginal Corporation, which was incorporated on 6 September 1984 under the Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act 1976.[14]

Balgo falls within the determined Tjurabalan People (WCD2001/001) native title claim area.

The town plan, Balgo Layout Plan No. 3, was prepared in accordance with State Planning Policy 3.2 and was endorsed by the community and the Western Australian Planning Commission in 2005.[15]


It has a petrol station, supermarket, Catholic parish, Luurnpa Catholic School (K–10), Kutjungka Trade Training Centre, clinic and police station.[7] The Wirrimanu Community Store is a small independent business which is owned and operated by a local Indigenous corporation. Goods are trucked in once every two weeks via Adelaide and Alice Springs, owing to quarantine regulations. Being such a small outlet, there are no economies of scale for suppliers, leading to high prices for the locals (such as A$28 for a large pumpkin in 2023).[16]

Balgo Hill Airport is located 1 nautical mile (1.9 km; 1.2 mi) south of Balgo.[17]

In January 2020 the Australian Government announced an upgrade to the Tanami Road and its feeder roads. Conversion of the main road from gravel into a sealed road would improve safety and comfort for drivers on the 300-kilometre (190 mi) stretch from the Halls Creek junction, which is the only route to nearby regional centres and for the transport of essential supplies to the community. A new tourist road in Balgo would be used by local tour guides taking visitors to sacred lands.[18]


  1. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (28 June 2022). "Balgo (urban centre and locality)". Australian Census 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (28 June 2022). "Balgo (Indigenous Location)". Australian Census 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  3. ^ a b c Bureau of Meteorology max
  4. ^ "Balgo (1940-1965) | German Missionaries in Australia".
  5. ^ D. Choules Edinger and G. Marsh, "Reassessing the missions: Balgo – its history and contributions" (PDF), Kimberley Society, 3 November 2004.
  6. ^ Parliament of Australia. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs; Blanchard, Allen (March 1987). Inquiry into the Aboriginal homelands movement in Australia. Published online 12 June 2011. ISBN 0-644-06201-0. Retrieved 16 August 2020. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help) PDF
  7. ^ a b "Communities". Shire of Halls Creek. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Warlayirti Artists Aboriginal Corporation". Desert River Sea. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  9. ^ Bamford, Matt (28 December 2019). "Researchers map ancient language in West Australian outback". ABC News (ABC Kimberley). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  10. ^ "Full list of artists". Warlayirti Artists. Archived from the original on 7 January 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2009.
  11. ^ "Home". Warlayirti Artists. 31 January 2021. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  12. ^ a b Mills, Vanessa (1 September 2022). "WA's first Indigenous art centre celebrates 35 years of supporting Kimberley artists". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 1 September 2022.
  13. ^ Mills, Vanessa (13 October 2021). "A cache of art, missing for almost 40 years, will be unveiled for the first time". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  14. ^ "Aboriginal Councils and Associations Act 1976 Wirrimanu Aboriginal Corporation". Government Gazette (Australia). No. B22. Australia. 1 June 2004. p. 1254. Retrieved 29 January 2021 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ "Balgo Layout Plan No.3". Perth, Western Australia: Western Australian Planning Commission. 4 October 2005. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  16. ^ Schubert, Steven (18 June 2023). "Cost-of-living pressures hitting remote Indigenous Australians hard as freight price surges". ABC News (Australia). Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  17. ^ YBGO – Balgo Hill (PDF). AIP En Route Supplement from Airservices Australia, effective 21 March 2024"Aeronautical Chart" (PDF). 27 August 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 April 2012.
  18. ^ Bamford, Matt (4 January 2020). "Outback adventure track Tanami Road on a $235 million path to being sealed". ABC News. Retrieved 5 January 2020.

Further reading


Go to Top