Yolngu Nations Third Assembly and 99 Year Leases

Heritage Stained Glass window in Milingmbi Church, the venue of the 3rd Yolngu Nations Assembly, 2013.
Heritage Stained Glass window in Milingmbi Church, the venue of the 3rd Yolngu Nations Assembly, 2013.


Media Statement


Yolŋuw Makarr Dhuni (Yolngu Nations Assembly)

RE: Yolngu Nations Third Assembly and 99 Year Leases







This past weekend the Yolngu Nations Assembly (YNA) held their third assembly at Milingimbi (15-17th of November 2013).

The YNA’s inaugural assembly took place in Galiwin’ku in 2011, and last year (2012) the gathering took place in Maningrida.

For two years now YNA has been building its grassroots support across Arnhem Land as it seeks to bridge the divide between Yolngu tribal governance and the Australian system of governance.

To further YNA’s growth, constitutional development is now taking place and this meeting passed an interim and trial version to take the organisation through the coming year.

Amongst the political issues discussed this year the threat of 99 year leases over Arnhem Land towns became central. It was unanimously accepted that YNA will speak out against Australian government takeovers of Yolngu lands and will resist further incursions of Australian government control over Yolngu peoples. YNA also seeks to protect the rights of its people to fair and diplomatic negotiations, particularly in the case of multi-generational leases.

Attached is an earlier statement concerning 99 years leases by the YNA spokesperson Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra.


Dhulumburrk (Matthew) Gaykamangu

YNA Convenor



Media Statement (6th of November 2012)

 Dismantling the Land Rights Act (NT) 1976


I express my deep concern at the actions of the Abbott Government as evidenced by the behaviour of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion, in hastily procuring MOUs on township leases for 99 years in Gunbalanya and Yirrkala in recent weeks. He is quoted as saying that this was part of a blitz to encourage other communities around the country to sign similar deals.

There is no evidence of general consultation with the communities concerned and the haste associated with the process would suggest that there has been no time for reflection or the obtaining of legal and other advice as to the advisability of what the Government proposes. The process therefore places unfair pressure on the communities concerned.

What these leases involve is the handing over of hard fought entitlements to lands to the Government for at least four generations for what would appear to be short term gains. A 99 year lease is regarded by most people as an effective surrender of title. It is a decision that requires careful and mature consideration and not one taken in response to a fly in fly out Government ‘blitz’.

Our Madayin-Law is upheld by the Ngurringgitj-Tradition in the land. A lease that takes control of the land means we are giving away our Law and our identity. We will have nothing to live for. We will become fringe dwellers. Our land can never simply be exchanged for monetary gain.

Government behaviour thus far is consistent with that of its many predecessors in trampling over the rights of Aboriginal people and treating them as second class citizens. It also flies in the face of consultation recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission aimed at consensus decision-making, which two Parliamentary Committees have endorsed, including one of which Senator Scullion was a member. It is also inconsistent with the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to which Australia has endorsed.

I call on other Aboriginal Communities to reject the Government’s overtures involving any changes unless and until they abide by culturally appropriate protocols and undertake to give the communities access to independent advice, including legal advice at the Government’s expense.

Rev. Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM

6th November 2013

0428 402 929

About Richard Trudgen

Richard was born in Orange NSW and trained as a fitter and turner. He moved to Arnhem Land in the NT in 1973 and became a community worker, learning to speak Djambarrpuyŋu. Has now worked with Yolŋu people for over 45 years. He was the CEO of Aboriginal Resource and Development Services (ARDS) for 10 years during which time he developed discovery education methodology with Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM and also established Yolŋu Radio in 2003. He is the author of Why Warriors Lie Down and Die and facilitated ‘Bridging the Gap’ seminars, and delivered corporate training across Australia. He is currently the CEO of Why Warriors Pty Ltd, a community development social enterprise organisation working with Yolngu people. He spends his day writing, producing podcasts and building online learning platforms, producing videos and working face to face with Yolngu. He is also involved in building online cross-cultural training material to build understanding between Indigenous peoples and the Dominant Culture.

1 Comment

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  1. John Riley

    I agree Dr Gondarra. We are seeing a similar land grab by stealth in Cape York. Home ownership/freehold is being promoted as a cure all but in reality when you have 65%-80% unemployed how can these people afford to pay a home off. They will end up foreclosing on the loan and lose their home AND LAND to the state. Result: More Mines!
    Your message needs to be sent all over the country to warn the people’s of this impending theft.
    Don’t give up old man, there are people out there who will fight alongside of you