Another Indigenous voice from Arnhem Land

Cultural Worlds by

Here is another statement from a Yolŋu person from North East Arnhem Land. He speaks against the intervention, but he is also referring to many other recent sudden changes in NT government policy such as the ceasing of funding to Home Land centres (or out-stations) and the closing of Home Land schools.  Again the underlining concern is about the approach that came with the intervention that has lead to such broad brush decisions being made without prior consultation.  If you are working with Indigenous people do not let ideologies control your decision making, find a way to understand the local people’s real experience, knowledge, and situation.

Yingiya is a excellent teacher and I think there is plenty to be learnt from his words about the experience and perspectives of the Yolŋu people.


My name is Yingiya Guyula from Liya-dhalinymirr clan of the Djambarrpuyŋu People.

I am a Yolngu Studies lecturer at University in Darwin

The intervention has only created problems in East Arnhemland communities as well remote homeland centres. The Intervention has made our people more frustrated and confused, the white man’s way of thinking is forced on us, and forcing us to abandon our culture.

Government Ministers have flown into Arnhemland communities just for few hours on the ground to gather a little bit of information, then they fly back into cities thinking they know how to fix the problems in the communities, thinking they know what’s best for us.

Governments only looked at the fringe camps and towns and wet areas where people drink alcohol in places such as Nhulunbuy, Katharine, Tenant creek, Jabiru Alice Spring and Darwin.

White people see Aboriginal people in these places and think that these people that don’t care about life, who don’t care about living. But who are they to judge them. They class all Aborigines the same, but they are wrong.

These white people and those bureaucrats do not go out to the East Arnhemland communities, where my people live, where there has never been alcohol, and these is no child abuse. There are Aboriginal people living on remote communities of Arnhemland, in homeland centres, away from towns, away from the binge drinking areas, poker machine and gambling venues.

These are people that are able to manage their funds and work, or want work, educate, discipline, and practice ceremonies.

Quarantining of centrelink payments should be optional and not compulsory. Quarantining might be ok for people living in town camps and cities, where alcohol and gambling is a problem, but it doesn’t work for my people living on remote Arnhemland homelands where there is no gambling, no alcohol and no child abuse.

We are asking simply for understanding that in life, their needs to be an understanding between two cultures. There needs to be respect between cultures.

Mapuru homeland has a Coop store which won a National award for selling healthy food. Centrelink won’t approve it to accept quarantined money.

This means an aircraft charter fight from the mainland homeland at Mapuru to the closest shop on Elcho Island costs 560 dollars return. This means it’s costing $560 return flight just to buy 150 dollars worth of food, where’s the sense in that?

Arnhemland is like the European Union, made up of many different nations, each clan-nation with their own language, each with it own national estate. Bringing everybody in from the homeland centres into the major settlements is not the right thing to do because people do not feel secure or happy living in another mans land. Children are forced to go to school, but really they do not feel safe and unsecure on other peoples’ land.

There are about 40 children who willingly run to school every day at Mapuru homeland because it’s their home and they feel secure. Yet the N.T. Government wants to close down the homeland schools and bring everyone in to the major communities.

They think it’s not worth spending money on homeland schools who have 40 or more children freely, and with their own will attending school, but is providing internet services, facilities and technology to white schools with attendances as low as 5. The Education department provides computers and internet and distance learning for hundreds of cattle station and small schools, across the Northern Territory, but homeland schools are neglected.

Further more I would like say that these homelands are our homes. There is no violence in the remote homeland communities, no child abuse happens, no alcohol, no pornography, because out there in the bush is where the cultural ceremonial grounds are, and from it is where strong discipline comes through spirits of our fathers talking through the land.
Both the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory Governments hasn’t given equal opportunity to us the First Australians to be able to exercise our rights.

Through the intervention white man police stations have been put in the major communities for dealing mostly with cultural conflict issues (problems that can only be solved through traditional cultural justice), but instead the white policeman force white man law onto us, disrespecting our black fella law. They think they’ve done the right think. But often they’re only making it much worst by locking up senior leaders, the very ones who are wise and keeping our Indigenous Law strong.

This time we are taking the case further where it can be heard loud and clear by people whose ears, brains, feelings have a heart for Indigenous Australians. It is now being taken further where there is an ear that will listen.
We are taking it further, to the United Nations and will talk about the intervention, about how income management in the Northern Territory has had a devastating and debilitating impact on remote communities in Arnhemland.

Finally, we need you to support us. We need you to tell governments that we want the same opportunities as white people, to live and enjoy our own cultural life, but they must stop trying to make us like whiteman, we have our own cultural identity. Let us be who we are, and together we will have hope for the future.

Thank you


All emphasis and wording is that of the original statement.  My source encourages this statement to be passed on to anyone and everyone.


Add your comment:

  1. Nadine Doolan

    Hi All, I just want to say how proud I am of all the people (Black and White) involved in working against the intervention. When I first heard of it I was shocked that such a thing could happen in the 21st Century. It seemed to me to be a complete reversal back to colonialisation. What kind of message does this send to young Australia? Now the word intervention denotes racism and shame for and from the Australian Government. I, thankfully, will never be a part of this scheme but I feel for the genuine people that already are. Everything Yingiya Guyula states is true! Not only because he is an Indigenous Traditional Owner of this country but because he is a Human Being! Does that word mean anything to the government anymore. Why can’t the government get to the grass roots of the problem and individualise intervention (if it must exist to begin with)?. It’s sad to see a government that doesn’t care, a government that just wants to sweep everything under the carpet so the problem doesn’t exist at certain levels. Our ancestors and present day people have fought a long time in this country to be free of racism and to live on our land as free men/women. It’s time to start fighting out of the circle and letting the world know whats going on with our racist, paternalistic government. I aim to send information to several governments around the world involving our people so they are aware, on a regular basis. This will involve Indigenous newspapers, petitions, letters…anything for our voice to be heard and for action to be taken. As Human Beings we have the right to be heard and justice to be served.

  2. David Forbes

    As a newcomer with a comment to offer I see hopeful signs and building blocks and yes, inspiration, within the several postings here. Not for one moment am I suggesting that all will be well soon. It is easier and faster to destroy something than it is to build it, but it seems to me the embers have not died, help may be at hand to rekindle the true Aboriginal spirit, but it is hindered by ignorance combined with indifference. We have to find the way to remove that hindrance. One heavy obstacle is the lack of educated awareness – of the white population of Australia. Why is this a problem? For starters – we already know from world history that empires of human power ALWAYS disintegrate.

    A regular visitor to Australia from the UK and later from the USA since 1985, living here (WA) since 2006, I am appalled at my own earlier ignorance, my stereotype view of the Aboriginal culture. Another point I will make about the non-Indigenous population is an opinion based on a working life of years spent conducting international business which crossed numerous cultural divides. We are witnessing the slow self-destruction of the European descendant family value system. Whole families here are preoccupied with material possessions, maximum comfort for minimal effort, with daily public displays of ‘me-first’ attitudes. Greed is this society’s prison.

    I do not see happy white people here, for all their wealth, for all their advantages. Rudeness is almost guaranteed to show itself during shopping trips, and there is no age or gender limit ito those responsible ill manners. It has been quite a shock to my family when compared to the much more thoughtful, civil and generous community culture we enjoyed while living in the United States. I am left wondering, again drawing on longstanding cultural experience, whether the British psyche is at the root of it, because this is the dominant influence where I and my family are living and we had seen this emerging trend when we moved from the UK in the nineties. (BTW – I am British born).

    The point I am making is that the dominant ‘Balanda’ culture has virtually lost its soul. It has been up for sale to the highest bidder for too long – but please permit me to suggest that in spite of all the sad history of injustice, the hardships and the pain, there is reason to believe that the Aboriginal soul is much more resilient. Perhaps my word instead of ‘soul’ should be ‘spirit’ and this is a white man’s perspective so I hope it is OK to express it in this way.

    The following is a familiar quotation to many white people of European descent, but it does no harm to remind ourselves of the words of Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) an Irish born orator, philosopher, and politician who lived for many years in England. It is sad to reflect that his shared wisdom had insufficient impact on those who had and have so much authority over others

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

    Ani in her March 2010 comment used the words ‘Wake up’. Some of us white fellas are waking up but it has been a long sleep and there is serious communications work to be done in our communities. Enough of us want our souls back. We are going to need Aboriginal leadership and skills to make a difference – because our forebears failed to learn from you in the first place. The search is on for good men – and women and children, regardless of ethnicity – to do something.

    • Tim Trudgen

      There are some wonderful insights in your comment David. This post is producing some great discussion.

      I believe you are right Australian “Balanda” culture has some big problems, largely due to a sell out to consumerism and an extreme form of individualism. And the negative aspects of Balanda culture have their greatest impact on the minority groups. Many of challenges the Yolngu people face as they try to make better lives are an out working of problems in our larger society. Especally when it comes to the influence of media and how the Government treats people. Our Government no longers know how to respond to the needs of people only statisics and media enhanced retoric. There is a genuine need for Australians to respond to marginalised Indigenous people as humans and friends, rather than objects to be fixed. Unfortunately this requires us (as individuals) to do some hard things that involve a commitment to sharing the burdens people carry and as governments and organisations to give up some power. It means giving up some of the comforts of the mainstream to truely be with the marginalised in their struggles, and letting go of some of our beloved ideologies and rules. It means … well perhaps I should leave it to another artilce.

  3. Ani

    Thanks to all the people on this blog, it is good to hear your thoughts.

    Something has to be done about the heavy drinking in Aboriginal societies. Something also has to be done about the heavy drinking in White societies. Something has to be done about the pornographic images on government computers in remote communities, what about the pornography on government computers in government offices all around the country? Something has to be done about the prevalence of STD and sexual abuse in children. In all societies these shameful practices occur behind closed doors. The cowards who indulge should be castrated – no matter where they live.

    A measure of our civilisation is the way we treat our most vulnerable citizens. Our beloved country has a woeful record on mental health, children’s safety and alcholism. The useless prevailing philosophy is ‘blame the victim’. It is much easier to stand on high and chuck money at problems than to make a real difference. Self determination is the way through the welfare maze, consultation, deliberation and considered, respectful action is needed, for all of Australia.

    Some communities have millions thrown at them, willy nilly, women’s centres built on flood plains and washed away by the following year’s wet season, then eaten to a shell by white ants, expensive equipment rusted out where it was dumped by the flood – useless. Houses built yet not connected to electricity and water because there is no channel for complaint of shoddy builders.

    Millions are spent on community shops yet fresh food is still not available. There must be better ways than hand outs to businesses supposed to support vulnerable people. Where is the money for community food gardens, small industries, farming endeavours. How can the government expect their expenditure to do any good on the ground when most of it is spend on compliance eg fulfilling the needs of the beaurocratic process.

    WAKE UP, there are people needing work they can be proud of, there are people needing real skills (not bits of paper), there are people needing to be valued for the contribution they can make. As a country we cannot afford to throw away the riches that cultural diversity brings by nonchalantly tossing money around without stopping to think about where it will land.

    Where are the media reports on the successful communities? Where are the TV programs that show how functional communities live? Where are the articles on the incredible advantages of a rich cultural diversity on all sectors of our country? We should all be asking our policy makers for more positive stories. Lets see more pride, lets build on the achievements of the awesome men and women who stand up to be counted.

    Where are the programs for schools down south to visit remote communities to foster the respect and friendships across all groups in our country? Why do school visits go overseas when they could have a unique cultural experience in remote Australia.

    Respect starts with just one person opening their mind and talking about the wonders of the ‘hidden’ magnificence of cultures in our own country, will it be you?

  4. Kristine Braddock

    I think that Australia needs to stop thinking in terms of “white” solution and start listening to our indigenous people, such as Yingiya Guyula, who have a firm idea around what the aboriginal community actually needs. I have travelled the world and feel devastated when I see the influences that a lot of indigenous cultures have within other countries as it highlights to me that lack of within our own.

    Yes, I am white with German/Irish ancestors but was born in Murgon, near to the aboriginal township of Cherbourg Qld. I love our rich aboriginal culture, the art, the dreamtime, the intuitive knowledge of our beautiful country.

    I do not blame many of aboriginal people for being confused, angry and lost. It has been only just over 200 yrs since white people came to Australia and only a short while since the stolen generation stopped being stolen. I am sure that many aboriginal families could still tell you stories about their mother, father, aunty etc. even themselves being taken from their family purely because of their race. There is still a lot of hurt and loss of presence being felt that only time hopefully can heal for some.

    Why is that we are forcing the aboriginal people to take on our white man’s ways? Why are we not recognising and respecting fully the rich culture around us? I would love for my children to be taught aboriginal culture within our schools and have exposure to the languages, tribal regions, beliefs, practices and most importantly the spirituality – a spirituality being suppressed by white man’s ideas of what they should be thinking.

    To Liz, you seem to be a very strong woman and thank you so much for sharing your feelings. Don’t ever stop your passion!! I’d really love to hear what you’re thoughts are on how we could be doing to move forward and come together to empower the first australians.

    Kindest regards.

  5. Tim Trudgen

    Thanks Liz for your comment.
    It is good for “Whites” to understand what it feels like on the other side, when another culture control can control your life.

    Please, try to forgive us “Whites” for the sins of our peers and our ancestors against the aborignal people. But please do not hate us by labeling all “Whites” as part of the corruption. There are many “White” people who do try to help. There are many “Whites” with a good attitude, who work to help Aborignal people. That includes our readers who are reading these artilces, and your comment, to understand better how Aborignal people everywhere can be empowered. We are fighting hard against the Dominant culture of Australia to improve things. While I do not love the Government and I know much racism still exist there, I think that they continue to hurt aborignal people mainly because they just do not understand the real experience of Aborignal people.

    Your comment is quite long, but as there are no other comments at this time I will leave it in full.

    Thanks again

  6. liz

    I agree that white man has always tried to make Aboriginal people conform to the ways of their lifestyle and living. We were forced to speak their langage, forced off our lands, forced removals, forced alcohol upon us, forced to make decisons when they knew we had a process that we go through before making any decisions. Forced education, only to suit themselves. Their education was not to teach us too much,that’s why a lot of our people only had 3rd grade education; for communication purposes. Remember white man could not speak our language, therefore teaching us english was compulsory for them. However, the white couldn’t teach us too much otherwise we would know more than them. White man always place themselves above any other race. The British are the only culture in the world that has committed genocide and gotten away with it. Why is it that what Hitler did to the Jews is called genocide and what the British did to the Aboriginal people is called colonization, yet they wipe out a nation of Aboriginal people in Tasmania? There is a contradiction here, and white do not want to admit their faults because if they did this they would be have to recogize history and their history in Australia is based on lies, deceit, murder, rape, and stealing. Steal the land, make money and kill all the Aboriginal people in Australia, so white man did not have to answer to the truth. We are still here so they still haven’t answered the truth and we are waiting. Kevin Rudd is just another one of those polititions that tell lies, he hasn’t done one thing to fix the problems in this country because he is weak. This is typical of a white politician,it is the culture of the white man (lies). But they are quick to judge anyone who is not white especially Aboriginal people. Quick to put us down and place us in prison for stealing, lock us up because of our behaviour, placing us in such institutions is for them to know exactly were we all are. Locking us up for crimes that are petty is again another contradiction of the white man, especially the stealing part considering they were the ones that showed us how to do everything they did. The minute we act up we are punished for it. If a white man does a crime they are less inclined to be punished the way an Aboriginal person would be punished. The whole of Australia is corrupted, from the raggety white man in the streets to the the real estates to the police force, to the Child Safety Department, to the Government of Australia. White man does not fool me for one minute, I am fully aware of what they do to us and more. White man still continue to remove our children, except now they use Child Safety as the reason rather than “we want to strip Aboriginal people of their identity” It seems white do not want to recognise any part of the real history of this country. If they did they would know that the forced removal of Aboriginal children had a major affect on the parenting of many Aboriginal people, but that was the whole purpose of white man to do this; this meant they have more control over us, therefore maybe then they can again force the stripping of our identity . Aboriginal people cannot even get accommodation in this country because of the racism, therefore they have to overcrowd in white mans’ housing structures, “not really for us”. Our people are use to the openess of our country where everyone has space, not locked away like sardines in can. Once again we are forced to do things we do not want to do. Our children drop out of school because of the racist attitude of their educators, again this is a form of oppression, by allowing history to repeat itself. Our children need encouragement and acceptance, just like everybody needs. Unless change occurs in this country by this government then only then we will know that the government of the day “RUDD” is for real, but for now he is gammin and just like all the other Prime Ministers that have come and gone. So, Mr Rudd if you want to make change your the one that will go down in history for wanting to back up what you say. Isn’t it about time for change or are white Australians liking the way things are in their controlling, manipulating and intimidating ways? Or are white just plan scared for change in case we get into power just like President Obama did in the United States of America? Time for change Rudd, it’s time.

    • Philip Ledlin

      Thanks, Tim.
      I spent my entire working career in primary school education in Sydney and I am embarrassed as I reflect on the way I too commonly ‘generalised’ about Indigenous culture and language. Importantly too, your article highlights the relatively infantile understanding that I’ve had regarding the diversity of Indigenous needs, capacity and wishes throughout Australia.
      Bravo for the good work you do … Maintain the rage.
      Philip Ledlin
      PS I wish I read your article when you wrote it over a decade ago!