Kumwentyaye Turner, an Akarre woman, was born in the Spotted Tiger region of Harts Range, north-east of Alice Springs in Central Australia. She grew up in a strong and healthy family, learning the songs and women’s law of her people from her aunts. She was also a gifted painter, and her work often told stories of the stars, the sky, the wind, and everyday life. She believed in God’s power to heal, and she often prayed for the sick and those with a variety of needs.
Kumwentyaye Turner’s parents sent her to Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) in her mid-teens, where she continued her education and was married in the Catholic Church. She later moved to Darwin and Alice Springs, where she qualified as a language interpreter. She was passionate about preserving her culture and sharing her insights with others. She taught language and culture courses at the Institute for Aboriginal Development and elsewhere, and was one of the founders of Irrkerlantye Learning Centre, which focuses on inter-generational learning for Arrernte people.
In 2010, she published a book titled “Iwenhe Tyerrtye – what it means to be an Aboriginal Person.” The book was written for her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, and it tells the stories of her people and their culture. Kumwentyaye Turner was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1997 for her service to the Aboriginal community of Central Australia. She was a remarkable woman who shared her insights and learning with others, and her legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.
Kumwentyaye Turner, a wise and revered Akarre woman, emphasized the profound connection between her people and the Land, stating, “We are part of the Land. The Land is us, and we are the Land. That’s how we hold our Land.”
She believed that the Land and the stories woven within it were inseparable, asserting, “The story is the Land, and the Land is the Story. The story holds the people, and the people live inside the Story. The Story lives inside the people, and the Land lives inside the people also. It goes all ways to hold the Land.”
Kinship, known as Anpernirrentye, held great significance for Kumwentyaye Turner, who described it as a bond that tightly unites Aboriginal people, stating, “Kinship is about relationship… it holds Aboriginal people really close and strong, it holds everyone tightly together.”
She believed that kinship provided guidance and a sense of identity, remarking, “Our kinship shows us the way, the Rule of the Law. It has come from our Traditional Land, and also from the Beginning to know who we are.”
Kumwentyaye Turner found solace and healing in reconnecting with her ancestral Land, or Apmere, stating, “To go back and smell the smoke and the air of your own country, hear the birds singing and talking, watch the stars at night, see the sun rise and the sun set.”
Reflecting on the harmonious relationship between Aboriginal people and nature, she shared, “In the early days, the people used to drink water from rockholes and soaks. They used to drink the same water as the wild bush animals, where the waters always were, Sacred Waters, those that belonged to that Land.”
Language held a sacred place in Kumwentyaye Turner’s heart, as she believed that words were bestowed upon her people by the Land itself. She expressed, “Our language is sacred to us. Every Aboriginal language is sacred for those that speak it. Words are given to us by the Land. And these words are sacred.”
She recognized the coexistence of two cultures, acknowledging the value of the English language while emphasizing the importance of unity, stating, “I think that white people, their language is a loveable language… we can’t have blaming business today, we can’t do that because we are living together. We’re eating the same food, drinking the same water, we breathe the same air. Two cultures can hold each other together very strong.”
Her Catholic faith played a significant role in her life, as she believed that God created everything, including Aboriginal people and the Land. She expressed her devotion, saying, “I really like my Catholic faith, and what I’ve learned, and I still keep myself as arelhe urrperle, a true believing Aboriginal person… God created us and God created everything. He created us to look after the Land.”
Kumwentyaye Turner adapted her Catholic worship to incorporate her own language and traditions, explaining, “As a Catholic person, I cannot stop loving the Land. I’m saying here that I am strong in Catholicism and strong in my Culture. But I’ve changed things around so that I can worship God in my own language, with my own words. Not only me, a lot of people are doing that as well. That’s the way I see it, and will teach my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”
As a key member of the Ngkarte Mikwekenhe (Mother of God) Aboriginal Catholic Community, she played a vital role in the chaplaincy. She helped the Priest deliver his homily in Arrernte, the language of her people, so that everyone could grasp the Gospel message. She was a “bridge” between Ngkarte/God and the Arrernte Catholics, enhancing their understanding of their faith.
Kumwentyaye Turner OAM was a proud mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
The State funeral will be held at 10am on August 17. Following the funeral Mass, a poignant burial ceremony will take place at Sandy Bore, where all will bid their final farewell to Kumwentyaye Turner.
Sandy Bore is an outstation in the traditional lands of the Arrernte people, about 50 km north-east of Alice Springs. It can be reached by road via the Stuart Highway and the Arltunga Tourist Drive, a distance of about 85 km.