The Purple House is a non-profit Aboriginal, community-controlled health service whose mission is ‘Making all our families well’. It began in response to the increasing number of Pintupi/Luritja people with chronic renal disease from the Western Desert region who were forced to leave their Country and families to access dialysis – a situation which was fracturing families and disrupting important knowledge transfer and community leadership. To keep families together and culture strong, the Purple House was conceived to provide dialysis care to patients on Country and within their remote communities.
In 2000, alongside the major exhibition Papunya Tula: Genesis and Genius, the Art Gallery of New South Wales worked with several organisations to realise the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal. Leading Papunya Tula artists including Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, Naata Nungurrayi, Bobby West Tjupurrula and Patrick Tjungurrayi were the driving force behind the appeal and more than $1 million was raised through an art auction held at the Gallery. This money led to the establishment of Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, which is now called the Purple House.
Most of the funds raised at the auction came from four major collaborative works created by artists of Papunya Tula at Walungurru, NT, and Kiwirrkurra, WA, in 1999: two men’s and two women’s canvases. Three of these special paintings will be on display in The Purple House exhibition celebrating 21 years since the Purple House’s inception, where they will feature alongside major works and archival material drawn from the Gallery’s collection.
The Purple House has continually defied expectations and the constraints of mainstream Western systems to develop a highly successful, culturally appropriate model of care centred around compassion, family and doing things the ‘right way’ culturally and clinically. The bravery, foresight and business innovation of those involved has contributed to the mental, physical and spiritual health of their communities immeasurably. Their all-Indigenous board of directors literally changed laws in 2018 following more than a decade of lobbying, demanding that remote areas be added to the Medicare Benefits Scheme.
This in turn has provided stable funding, securing the future of Purple House services and enabling significant growth, which sees them operating permanent dialysis units in 18 remote communities across the Northern Territory and remote Western Australia and South Australia. Their story highlights how we can listen to Aboriginal peoples and their communities so that they can continue to keep their culture strong – culture that they share openly with the world and which is celebrated and cherished by the Gallery and art lovers alike.
You can find out more about the Purple House in these videos, and join us online for an In the Frame conversation with Pintupi artist Bobby West Tjupurrula and Purple House CEO Sarah Brown
A version of this article first appeared in Look – the Gallery’s members magazine