Painter, leader, pastor
Pastor Philippus (‘Longjack’) Tjakamarra passed away on 25 August 2020.
He was one of the oldest Australian Indigenous pastors ever to work for the Lutheran Church. This was just after regular Finke River Mission evangelistic work with the Pintupi people had begun.
Philippus was born around 1932 in his parents’ country northwest of Papunya. He described himself as one of the Ngalea people, from the eastern shore of Lake Mackay. As a boy he wandered from waterhole to waterhole in the Kalipinypa/Nyirrpi/Mount Doreen area. Then, as a young man, he moved to Haasts Bluff.
It was during his time travelling between waterholes that his faith really became strong. He had to learn to trust in God as his provider. He grew to realise how God gives all things freely, apart from law, in a way entirely unlike human beings.
He did fencing, stock work and construction work at Ali Curung, Murray Downs and other places (where some of his relatives lived) before returning to Haasts Bluff to be with his wife.
When Papunya opened in 1960 he moved there. His five children were born there. (One daughter died while young.) He worked for some time doing various jobs in the schoolyard. He also looked after pigs and chickens on the community farm.
But he still went hunting. He used a rifle, but whenever the bullets ran out he would revert to using a spear. He had a strong sense of right and wrong, and his leadership qualities began to become clear during this time. For instance, he instructed some of the local people not to spear bullocks, but kangaroos only. He later went on to lead Papunya as a traditional owner, retiring only in 2005.
After the Papunya dot painting movement started, he became a painter. He was among the youngest of the original dot painters who came to prominence in the 1970s. (The very last of the original group of dot painters passed away just a few months after him.)
In 1998 Philippus became a Lutheran pastor. He was assiduous in serving God. He continued to learn even in his old age, being a regular at Finke River Mission bush courses. He participated and spoke up in church meetings, where his opinions had considerable weight. He come across as a great-hearted man who was open about his faith, and who responded to God’s word with both solemnity and warmth.
A large number of people from many different backgrounds attended his funeral, which was held at the Papunya basketball court. All would agree that he had lived a long and remarkable life.