Yolngu Matha Introduction
Dhuwal ŋarra dhärran dhiyal warraw’ŋur Wes ministerwal ŋärra’ŋur dhamirriyaŋal limurruŋ yolŋuw walalaŋ buku-ḻiw’maram dhuwal wäŋa ŋaraka Australia. Dhiyal bala gali’ŋur Yolŋuwal ŋunhi maṉḏa Djaŋ’kawuy ga Barama/Ḻany’tjundhu goŋ-gurrupar limurruŋgal. Nhanŋuny dhuwal ḻuku ’ (Parliament) ŋunhi limurr yolŋuw dhu bon-rum’rumdhun ga makmakthun gäri, ga Limurruŋguny dhuwali wäŋa ŋaraka, warraw Nyunumu Djäpul ga Bultjaṉ Bukurrpuŋgurr dhuwa ga yirritja ŋalimurruŋ
(These words I will now translate and expand in English through the body of my speech.)
Madam Speaker, I am from the Liya-dhalinymirr Djambarrpuyngu people of East Arnhem Land.
I am a Ḻiya-dhalinymirr Djambarrpuyŋu leader.
I stand before this parliament here in good governance and respect.
Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the land that I’m standing on and the Larrakia Nations people and their ancestors.
Let me begin by saying, this is not something I wanted to do, I did not want to become a politician but we Yolngu have tried many ways of gaining recognition of Yolngu law and none have worked. I am here as an elected member, but also as a diplomat from the Yolngu Ngärra - bringing two parliaments together.
Our 1998 petition to Prime Minister John Howard read like this:
We request that [the Australian government]:
Similar requests for rights to land ownership and our way of life, and self-governance, were also made in the 1963 bark petition,… the 1988 Barunga statement,… and the 2008 petition to Kevin Rudd…
The leadership of the Yolngu people have always been very public about their request for a treaty. On numerous occasions this has been done by statement and petition to the Australian government….
Perhaps our peoples’ most well-known declaration for a treaty is the song by Yothu Yindi band called ‘Treaty.’
And again, today I bring a letter stick to be tabled in the parliament. This is brought on behalf of the Yolngu Nations Assembly.
The subsequent message is one of the Yolŋu nations outlining the equal standing of their Ŋärra’ institution compared to Australian parliaments. It is therefore a declaration of ongoing Yolŋu sovereignty while also being a diplomatic gesture of intent, and also an invitation, to work toward a place of mutual acceptance between Yolŋu and Australian jurisdictions.
The declaration reads like this:
We declare that we have not been conquered.
We declare that to this day we are a sovereign people.
We declare that we are subject to our Maḏayin system of law constituted by the
Unseen Creator of the Universe and revealed to the Givers of Law:- Djaŋ'kawu and Barama, and we continue to steward this system through our lawful authorities and government.
Our Maḏayin system of law establishes Mägayamirr- peace, order, and good government; is dhapirrk consistent in its statutes; and is assented to by all Yolŋu citizens through the Waṉa Lup assent ceremony.
Our Maḏayin system of law is guarded by the Yothu Yindi separation of powers.
Our Maḏayin system of law is a rule of law not a rule of man.
Our Maḏayin system of law is the equal of any other system of law.
This is the most important thing that I will say today, it is the reason that I am here. It is the reason that I stand before you.
To give you an even greater understanding of why I am standing before you I will tell you about myself:
I was born and raised in the bush. My father did not depend on others. He was given a job by the mission in Galiwin’ku using his traditional knowledge. He used the skills learnt from his father as a crocodile hunter. This is what I learnt in my younger days until I was 10. I stayed away from school. I was camping, hunting, fishing and crocodile hunting with my father and collecting bush foods with my mother.
At 10 years old I made a decision to go to school. I couldn’t read and write and was laughed at. I was put back in a class with younger children and quickly picked up skills. In 1 year, I was put up 3 levels beyond the class where I first started where children had laughed at me. Most of those kids finished school at a post primary level. I went on to Dhupuma College, and then to Nhulunbuy High School. I believe that my learning on country until the age of 10 gave me a strong Yolngu identity and confidence and the ability to succeed in later life. Growing up on my mother’s parent’s country and father’s country was where I was nurtured, where the ancestors know me, where I feel strong standing on my country.
Later I took a job with Mission Aviation Fellowship as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer. They had a flying school in Ballarat and I got my unrestricted private pilot license to fly all over Australia. I was learning about Balanda and getting a mixture of culture. I wanted to be back on country for ceremonies and traditional education, but I was also starting to enjoy a Balanda lifestyle. I was like a dog, chasing two masters. I was picking up Balanda habits and then I had to drop that and catch up with my own culture. This is a hard time for many caught in two worlds. People saying, “come to the mainstream.” On the other hand you need to be a leader, learn songlines and ceremonies, which work toward those things that is the law.
I am now at the end of my full education with Yolgnu knowledge. There’s still a lot to learn but I am a Djirrikaymirr. This is a leadership title for those who have a high level of learning. I have the authority to make constitutional decisions: create and reproduce the law. I have established this knowledge since my early 20’s. Over the past 35 years I have dedicated myself to learning Yolngu law. A law that has provided everything we need for thousands of years.
The issue of Yolngu law is the main reason that I have been selected by my electorate to represent them here in the NT Parliament. And I am very proud of all the grassroots support, Yolngu and Balanda together, that circled around this campaign.
I want to return to my story of a dog and two masters. This is two masters going in different directions: one going this way, and the other going that way. We talk about closing the gap but what gap are we talking about?
The people of my electorate understand this gap. It is the gap that is created when Yolŋu law is not properly acknowledged. When the power of self-determination is increasingly being removed.
I understand this pressure. Even as an adult learning to fly– I failed written exams several times but I was always above average in practical exams. I could navigate Victorian country almost instantly. We are capable of learning both ways but we need the strength of our first culture and language to obtain both.
The gap is growing and the only way to close it is with policies of self determination, self management and self governance: Ultimately a Treaty.
This is not the first Treaty for Yolngu people. When the Makassans first landed on Northeast Arnhem Land coast they recognised Yolŋu sovereignty and that a system of governance already existed here. The Makassans negotiation for the right to fish certain waters with our authorities and were granted this right.
In exchange for this fishery agreement, payments of cloth, tobacco, metal axes and knives, rice and gin were made….
We Yolŋu of Arnhem Land also traded turtle-shell, pearls and cypress pine… and some of our people were employed as trepangers.
The relationship between the Maccassans and Yolngu tribes became so intertwined that Maccassan culture became included in some of our songlines and lore…. Songlines of ŋarali-tobacco and ŋanitji-alchohol,… stories like the great-whale hunter Wuymu Wurramala,… and culture like the use of flags.
We had a true international treaty with the Maccassans of Sulawesi. They engaged us with respect and honor and they became our kin.
When I am asking for a treaty I am thinking of three requirements.