SYDNEY - They were an Aboriginal Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers who eloped into the desert because tribal law forbade them from marrying.
And for 40 years they roamed, living off kangaroo meat and bush fruit, happy with their own company and the red dirt landscape.
Warri and Yatungka were perhaps Australia's last nomads, leading a traditional lifestyle long after their Mandildjara tribe gravitated to urban settlements. They abandoned the desert only in 1977, when a severe drought dried up the waterholes and tribal elders, anxious for their welfare, sent out a search party.
The couple, still inseparable, were close to starvation. They agreed to come into town, although they still feared that they might be punished. But the elders had forgiven them. However, Warri and Yatungka yearned for their peripatetic existence, which was how Aborigines had lived for 40,000 years. In 1979 they died within weeks of each other.
Now their story has been immortalised by an indigenous film-maker, Glen Stasiuk, who was inspired by some 16mm footage shot by the search party.
"I just fell in the love with the way they never left each other, and their beautiful serenity in the frame," he said. The documentary, called Footprints in the Sand, was screened at an Aboriginal film festival at the Sydney Opera House this week. It features Warri and Yatungka's son, Geoffrey "Yullala Boss" Stewart, who travels with the film crew back to his birthplace, a waterhole in the middle of the remote Gibson Desert, in Western Australia.
Stewart, now in his 50s, wandered that land with his parents until his teens, when he joined the rest of the tribe for initiation ceremonies. He was overcome with emotion on returning.
He told Stasiuk, as he pointed to an area of roughly 200 sq km: "This was my playground."
Warri and Yatungka met in the 1930s, but were from different "skin groups", which meant that their relationship breached tribal law.
Rather than separate or risk reprisals, they ran away together in the middle of the night.
The couple had three children - their daughter died young, and their other son is now seriously ill. By the 1960s, with mining companies and farmers encroaching on their land, most Mandildjara had moved to towns such as Warburton and Wiluna. British nuclear tests in the 1950s had also blunted Aborigines' desire to live in the desert.
But Warri and Yatungka stayed out there, leading a solitary existence. It was not until the drought, one of the worst ever known back then, that they struggled to survive.
It took the search party, led by an Aboriginal tracker, Mudjon, and a white explorer, Bill Peasley, several weeks to find them.
Peasley wrote about the experience in a book, The Last of the Nomads, and a film with the same title was made. But Stasiuk, a lecturer in film and culture at Murdoch University in Perth, wanted to recount the events from an Aboriginal perspective. "I thought I should give these people a voice, because it's their ancestry," he said.
Stewart led the way. "He just knew the place in his head and in his heart," Stasiuk said. "When we got close, he went on ahead, and we could hear him sobbing."