Community building – educate first in the creator space

In the midst of the US election, it’s a good time to look at community builders and the secret to strengthening and keeping people moving forward together.  President Obama was trained as a community organiser. This is a vital role to play in a community because when people are trained in community development and communication, they learn the language, and then together with the people they look for answers.

One of the main activities that we are involved in daily, is working through the concerns and problems of Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land. Sometimes there are government initiatives hoping to solve the problems of Indigenous youth or something else. And getting the community to see that the answers are not going to come from the outside is important. They actually have a role in it; in fact, a massive role to play.

After a few years living in Arnhem Land, Richard Trudgen took on the job as a community worker, working together with people on problems such as disease and sickness, helping with the homeland movement (people moving back to their homeland villages), assisting in their understanding of what the council was talking about or even what local Aboriginal organisations were talking about.

“I started working with Richard 20 years ago,” says Dianne Biritjalawu (‘Beja’) Gondarra, a Yolngu leader from Elcho Island. “He got everything he learnt, as much as he can, from the old people he was working with. And then he made teaching resources to teach it back to the Yolngu. And he did one to teach the Balanda about the Yolngu too. He was also aware that all this information and all this knowledge that he’s holding belongs to the Yolngu. He knows and will help Yolngu because Yolngu people are now losing it. Their culture, language. Concept language I learn helps us understand, and helps the young Yolngu generation understand. Because they don’t know, they can’t accept it. The old people are dying and they are taking everything with them. It needs to be passed down to the next generation. Because it’s dying fast. We’re losing it fast.”

Dianne Biritjalawu (‘Beja’) Gondarra interview by Kiera de Hoog on 3 November 2020
About building stronger community

Community workers help communities organise the sorts of things that they want action around. But a lot of that organisation is community education. Working with the adults for them to get answers. Not taking their kids and sponsoring them off to schools in the south – where they go away, stay away, grow away. Those kids come back as broken people in those cases. Try and build a whole community, grow the whole community up, educate the whole community up; this is the way we should be moving forward, to really solve the issues of communities.

“There are too many outside influences taking kids away,” says Dianne. “They have to be educated in the creator space, where they come from. Before they can ever think about walking across to the other world.  So they can walk back and forth on that bridge. Yolngu respecting their side first so when they walk across they can walk with respect.”


Listen to our Q&A no. 51 here for more on this topic. And visit our Instagram page for regular Why Stories and updates.

Podcasts on Community Development in Yolngu Matha are available here.

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