There were small bands of uncontacted Aboriginals wandering the wastelands of Australia into the 1980s. Here’s the interesting story of the Pintupi 9 from the BBC:
The day the Pintupi Nine entered the modern world
By Alana Mahony
23 December 2014
In 1984 a group of Australian Aboriginal people living a traditional nomadic life were encountered in the heart of the Gibson desert in Western Australia. They had been unaware of the arrival of Europeans on the continent, let alone cars – or even clothes.
If you want to know how Australian Aboriginal peoples lived for 40,000 years, just ask Yukultji. She stepped into the 20th Century just 30 years ago. She is the youngest member of the Pintupi Nine, the last family of nomads to roam the territory around Lake Mackay, a vast glistening salt lake spanning 3,500 sq km (1,350 sq miles) between the Gibson and Great Sandy deserts of Western Australia.
“When I was young I would play on the sand dune and when we saw the old people returning to camp we would go back and see what food they had brought with them. After we ate we’d go to sleep. No blanket, we would sleep on the ground,” says Yukultji.
“Then we would go to another waterhole and make another camp.”
Before 1984, the Pintupi Nine lived just as their ancestors had done. Waterholes in this area are often 40km (25 miles) apart or more, and every day was spent walking in the relentless heat from one to another. “Sometimes there was no water, so we would hunt for goanna,” says Yukultji. The blood of these monitor lizards provided vital moisture when a water soak was dry.
Presumably, Aborigines who lived around, say, modern Melbourne had it a little easier in terms of how many miles they had to walk each day to survive. But much of Australia is pretty useless terrain with little rain and ancient, worn-out soil, and it’s not surprising that some of the last independent bands were in the regions of least use to sheep-ranchers and the like.
The discovery of the group caused a media sensation, but headlines referring to the “lost tribe” annoyed them – they weren’t lost, they insist, just separated from their relatives, and other members of the Pintupi clan.
The Nine consisted of two sisters and their seven teenage children – four brothers and three sisters, who shared one father. So how had they become so isolated?
In the 1950s the British began conducting Blue Streak Missile tests over the Western Desert region, and the Australian government decided to “round up” the desert nomads and move them into settlements. All of the Pintupi were taken away apart from this one family, which was overlooked. From then on, suddenly alone in the desert, they saw very few signs of anyone else’s existence.
Yukultji remembers seeing aircraft when she was very young. “The plane would fly over and we would hide in the tree. We would see the wings of the plane and we would get frightened. We thought it was the devil and so we kept hiding under the tree. When the plane had passed we would climb down from the tree.”
Her older sister, Takariya, remembers coming across a plane that had crashed. “We found some rope in it and we tied it around our waist. We didn’t know it was rope. We would tie it around our waist so that we could hang our goannas from it,” she says.
Eventually, they stumbled upon some distant relatives in modern clothes camping in the bush. After a few tense moments of spearwaving, they recognized each other and got along well.
McMahon [the first white man they ever met, now a famous one-armed didgeridoo player] did not want to put the group under any pressure to join the community, but he witnessed the moment they were persuaded. “It was unthinkable that they would stay out there because the modern world was so seductive. One of the fellows suggested, ‘Give them a taste of the sugar and they’ll be in for sure.'”
Indeed, the taste of sugar had a big impact on the Pintupi Nine and it is this aspect of their story which now animates them most. “I tasted the sugar, we didn’t know what it was, but it was so sweet. I tasted the sugar and it tasted so sweet – like the Kulun Kulun flower. My mother tasted it and it was so sweet. It was good,” says Warlimpirrnga.
Sugar is a big problem for most aboriginals:
Community life is, in some ways, easier than their previous nomadic existence, but it also exposed them to nastier aspects of the modern world. When they came out of the desert they were examined by a doctor and found to be incredibly fit and healthy, without an “ounce of fat”,
but in the Aboriginal communities of Western Australia diabetes and obesity are rife. McMahon remembers how quickly they succumbed to “whitefella” diseases like the common cold. Alcoholism is a problem in the Western Desert and paint- and petrol-sniffing were too, for a number of years.
In general, humans evolved to want to ingest as many calories as possible. In the Australian outback, due to the lack of rain and the poverty of the soil (genuine tragic dirt) the amount of walking between sources of food and even water is huge. So Aboriginals tend to have even less ancestral adaptation to the modern world’s scourge of too-muchness than do the rest of us.
One brother didn’t like living in a semi-modern community. He disliked all the squabbling. so after a couple of months, he went back to the bush by himself.
Pure-blooded Australian Aborigines don’t actually look much like the media personalities who play Aborigines on Australian TV: