Antisocial behaviour on Aboriginal communities

“They tell me we were once self-sufficient, great hunters and warriors … I have been told my people walked our country for 40,000 or more years and we were masters of our environment. What has happened to us in such a short time? And why do I feel so lifeless and broken?”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     A Yolngu Larment by Richard Trudgen



Intergenerational transfer of trauma

Aboriginal youth, who display all sorts of anti-social end-stage behavioural problems do not sniff petrol, self-harm, commit acts of vandalism, break & enter, or act violently towards their own family just because they are bad or bored. In many cases, they are traumatised young people living in families and communities who have already experienced high levels of trauma and dysfunction, over an extended period of time, caused by a broken relationship between themselves and the wider mainstream Australian society.

In a way, Aboriginal youth suffer a crisis of living just by being born on the wrong side of ‘mainstream’ Australian culture.  Some also suffer directly if their parents are also no longer coping. They see their parents unable to smile and enjoy life. They hear of intercultural conflict and accounts of injustice that has occurred to their people or families since ‘Balanda’ English-speaking outsiders, came to their country. This leads many of them to suffer from the multilayered crisis effect called the ‘intergenerational transfer of trauma’. This is where the trauma that their grandparents and parents have experienced in their lifetimes is transmitted to them, defining and shaping their life.

The ramifications of intergenerational transfer of trauma have been clearly defined in the Vietnam Soldiers Return Study. This study showed that there are consequences for the third-generation children of war veterans. For example, Vietnam veterans whose fathers also served in combat, displayed higher levels of PTSD symptoms. The suicide rates among the children of Australian veterans are three times the expected rate, and death by accident is twice the expected rate.

It is the same for Yolŋu children at present. They suffer from this intergenerational transfer of trauma passed down from their parents and grandparents, on top of being re-traumatised by their own contemporary experiences in their relations with mainstream Australians.


Lifting the lid, finding answers

Programs that are designed to empower communities so they can grow in confidence and experience control over their lives, can change things for the good. This applies to early intervention options and pathways that can be put in place for children at risk of engaging in anti-social behaviour. By empowering people as individuals, or their whole families and communities, programs can help to decrease or stop anti-social behaviour in the first place.

When this happens, individuals, families and communities create their own interventions; ones that are necessary to stop the decay in their own lives. Whole communities can then return to more “normal” healthy and responsive behaviour.


Community capacity building

An effective education model is community capacity building. For example, Hope for Health, one of our sister programs in Arnhem Land, empowers Yolŋu people to overcome chronic disease (including diabetes, heart disease and renal failure). The central core of the program is that Yolŋu are able to investigate the relationship between diet and exercise, and chronic disease, down to a deep biomedical level. This is because the program is delivered in their own language and worldview, and works around their questions they have in relation to the subject. Education programs should not be constructed around what mainstream society believes First Nations people need. These programs start in the wrong place and only add confusion on top of the existing confusion.

A recent example of this was COVID-19 information provided to Yolŋu communities. Information that did not answer their questions but instead followed the mainstream media news around blood clots and different vaccines available, when only the Pfizer vaccine was available to Yolŋu. This created vaccine hesitancy in communities that has never been seen before.

In the 1970s and the early 1980s, I worked together with Yolŋu people in Ramingining, using their own language and cultural constructs to understand mainstream issues. Yolŋu people managed their whole community, carrying out administration work, essential services, road and house construction, and winning government contracts. They also successfully defeated petrol sniffing by re-establishing an age-old teaching ceremony to successfully transition young men and women to adulthood. This teaching ceremony still happens today, every year.

During this time, I worked with a core team of four Yolŋu in a community development office. We designed Discovery Education programs together. That meant any question members of their community had in relation to how mainstream Australian culture worked could be answered by us working as a team. At times people were just looking for the meaning of a difficult English word or the real meaning of the name of a new government program or acronym. We became like a Google search engine for people in that community – a bridge into the mainstream ‘Balanda‘ world, in their own language, Yolŋu Matha.

We worked on medical, economic and legal literacy subjects, but the curriculum was determined by Yolŋu people themselves through their own questions and an analysis of their knowledge gaps around the subject when it was first raised. I would map the contradictions we discovered between the people’s worldview and their understanding of the particular subject and the actual information about the subject. And by doing so, we developed a whole list of cultural knowledge gaps together.

It is these knowledge gaps that many First Nations people in communities across the country need information around. This is because the answers lie over in the English-speaking mainstream world that they do not have access to because most Yolŋu people speak English as a fifth or sixth language. Yet without this knowledge, they cannot truly understand the current world.

The education material we developed was delivered in their own language so Yolŋu people could fully participate in the discussions and receive real understanding. At the same time, many Yolŋu people also learnt many academic English terms and concepts related to that topic. Using this method, any type of medical, legal or economic subject can be taught effectively and efficiently to the oldest or youngest people in First Nations communities. And once it is taught to adults in one generation, it will be taught internally to successive generations by Yolŋu people themselves. For example, when all the parents and elders understand mainstream Australian laws and rights, they can then apply them to protect vulnerable people from within their families and community groups.

The missing element is information — Yolŋu people need access to information so different situations can be understood, and action can be taken in line with guidance from mainstream professionals, like the police. If people don’t know their rights and responsibilities in relation to mainstream Australian law, how can law and order issues be dealt with effectively?


Community education, not elitist education

The community capacity building method is aimed at educating the whole community, not just a few individuals within it. It looks at the whole Yolŋu society as a socio-economic-political unit to be empowered, not just a few young people.

Many mainstream programs act as elitist education programs, targeting specific Aboriginal students and often taking them out of their communities in order for them to receive training.

When only a few young individuals from within their communities are empowered with mainstream information and knowledge, it sets up an un-level playing field — only now it is within Yolŋu families and communities themselves.

The young Western-educated Yolŋu students often return home and challenge the authority of the community’s democratically selected traditional leaders. This creates many disputes. When the students lose these disputes, as many do, they spend the rest of their lives on the road, living on the fringes of many mainstream communities as itinerants.

Those young people who win the battles usually suppress the community’s democratically selected leadership and end up keeping most of the mainstream culture resources and information to themselves. This is because the community does not know where their power and authority comes from, so they cannot control these self-selected “leaders”. Their immediate family becomes wealthy, while the wider community suffers.

This model of education creates a very undemocratic governance structure within First Nations communities and contributes to many end-stage anti-social problems we are now seeing in Yolŋu communities.


Failed colonial method

In 1789, Captain Arthur Philip forcibly captured two Aboriginal men named Bennelong and Colby, from Manly Cove, and pioneered a method of Aboriginal “advancement”, trialling it on these two men. (Read more in Bennelong: a foot in two worlds, but a heart in none)

This failed colonial method did not work then and does not work today. Many young people become lost between two worlds, completely confused and rejected by both the mainstream and Yolŋu communities. Often they are destined to a life of drug abuse and crime in the mainstream world. Most itinerant Aboriginal people in Darwin, and other capital cities across Australia, have walked in the same tragic shoes of Bennelong and Colby, adding greatly to the incarceration rates of Aboriginal people.

Captain Phillip’s two students were the first victims of this destructive education methodology. Colby died in England from pneumonia and Bennelong died back in Sydney of alcoholism at the age of 42, rejected and despised by both the British settlers and his own people. His only son, reared by a Methodist minister, died at the young age of 24. The gap of disadvantage has been around for a long time, and we keep on creating it.

Instead of using the colonial model of taking people out of their communities, changing them, and then hoping that they will come home and bring about positive change in their community, we need to employ a new model.  Working together with the whole community from where they are at, giving them access to information they need, will allow them to become an effective and functional social-political group, working together to respond to the issues they face every day. We employ this model via our Yolŋu online learning platform, which provides access to information asked for and co-created with Yolŋu people from their worldview, and in Yolŋu Matha language:



Two very different communities

This diagram shows a situation where there are two very different communities: one is developing fast within their own social-economic-political (mainstream British culture/language) structure on one side. On the other side (Aboriginal people/s) seemly left ‘in a time warp’ of the past, locked out of these new social-economic-political systems that have now taken over their lands.

The people on the left were the newcomers, bringing with them different technology to harvest large quantities of fish and other resources, causing starvation amongst the original estate owners. Guns that were superior in most cases against spears. Diseases that the people on the right had no prior contact with, that alone almost wipe them out. All these new overwhelming factors came wrapped up in a strange, new bewildering culture and language.

Within a year, the First Nations people’s social-economic-political structure and activity were crippled, allowing the newcomers to establish their system over what was seen by them as a new country.

Basic Unmet Human Need

Despite the above, many still ask why the First Nations people did not develop at the same rate? The answer lies in a basic unmet human need.

We know they did not understand this strange, new confusing language and culture. Working together with Yolŋu people for four decades, I know that Yolŋu have and still struggle with the mainstream English language and culture today. Just like other Aboriginal groups right across Australia, have done so for 200 years. To develop, people need access to essential knowledge and information in their own language —a language they think and dream in.

Sadly it also seems, Yolŋu and other First Nations people have never really had an opportunity to learn this strange new language and culture.

To correct this situation, we need real human capacity-building programs based on a model that views the whole Aboriginal community/s as an integral living unit/s. Programs that see adults—the traditional elders/educators—as necessary as the younger people. Rolling out more mainstream services, as is currently happening, will not work, no matter how much money and effort is spent on it.

Without capacity being built on the right side of the harbour, within the Aboriginal communities, as a complete sociopolitical unit, they will not be able to develop or effectively and efficiently use the resources and services pouring in. So they will go to waste.

This will only leave people on both sides criticising the government. Many mainstream Australians will say, “Look at all the wasted money!” while the Aboriginal community will feel even more deprived.

So how does the situation above relate to young Yolŋu and other Aboriginal youth across Australia?

Imagine being born on the Aboriginal side of the harbour and wondering all your life, how the people — just over there, on the left — became so successful. They do not die young as our people do. They seem to have so much money and so many assets. They have thriving businesses and suitable employment, they do well at school and university and the list goes on. Imagine how that feels? This is the mental torment that is carried by Yolŋu people and other Aboriginal people across our country, as well as many First Nations people all over the world. Having worked closely with Yolŋu communities for four decades, I believe it is the main part of the torment of powerlessness that they are experiencing.

The ‘just over there’ experiences are now very real for Yolŋu and many other traditional First Nations people and those who speak a form of Aboriginal English in Australia today. They have access to the Internet and other media sources or find themselves on excursions to other cities and places of interest across the country where they can compare what they see with their own living experience.

Intergenerational Transfer of Confusion

Unfortunately, the conversations that accompany these experience are usually all in English, which is as good as a foreign language to most of them. So they usually only get a tiny part of the picture. Upon returning home, these young First Nations youth often ask their parents questions about mainstream Australian culture and ways, which their parents cannot answer as they have the same questions. So now there is an ‘intergenerational transfer of confusion’, along with the transfer of trauma, by being born on the wrong side of the harbour.

In the 1980s, I first witnessed this torment after a school excursion trip to Singapore when a number of Yolŋu senior school students from Ramingining started sniffing petrol. When I sat down to talk with them, some interesting points were raised. The first was that they felt extremely ashamed of being Yolŋu. They were sniffing petrol to get high and forget who they were. They believed their airfares, accommodation, someone cleaning up your room after you messed it up, and all the food and special things like ice creams bought on the trip were all part of Balanda children’s everyday normal experiences, all paid for by the government.

This made them ashamed of their parents, as they saw them as not being able to provide the same things. Or, more correctly, ashamed their parents did not have the ability to access this same government funding as Balanda parents seemed to be able to do every day. This was made worse because when they asked their parents questions about Balanda wealth and access to money, their parents did not have answers. So now they also saw their own parents and elders as backward and ignorant.

Sadly many Yolŋu people today still conclude that Balanda people get all their assets, homes and jobs through some form of government grant. Many are shocked to find out that Balanda have to pay for their own housing.

A similar experience that I’ve witnessed many times, is a Yolŋu person flying over Sydney or another capital city, for the first time, saying to their Balanda colleagues sitting beside them, “Wow, no wonder the government has got no money to build houses in our communities. Just look at all the big houses they are building down here.”

They, and many of their contemporaries, do not know that over 90% of the housing is self-funded. That Balanda spend most of their lives paying it off. Though, working together with these Yolŋu people in their language, they received a clearer picture and then went on to conclude why so many Balanda and other Aboriginal people were coming to their communities and competing for all the well-paid jobs.

These big WHY question must be answered. Otherwise, people will continue to miss out.

Knowledge is power, and the lack of it is powerlessness.

Trying to work out how the mainstream Australian community works, without any formal community capacity building program to do so, leads to high levels of depression and creates a paralysing culture of silence. The 2016 Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report spells out that there are three main areas that show a clear regression in Aboriginal communities. These are: mental health, suicide/ self-harm, drugs/ other substance abuse. All clear social indicators of disempowered communities now living in a culture of silence.

Capacity building for all Australian citizens

Today Aboriginal people live in many different communities all over Australia. Some still have a lot of traditional knowledge, while others have lost almost all of it. So the capacity needs will be different within each of the major regional language groups.

However, there is some essential underlying concept information and knowledge needed to take control over their families and communities again and use the resources at their disposal. In short, they need and want to be able to understand how mainstream society operates in 2021. They need to become economically, medically and legally literate.

To do this, we need to dispense with the colonial idea that only First Nations people educated through mainstream schools and universities have the ability to understand complex issues. Having worked with Aboriginal people in many different situations across the country and having lived with Yolŋu communities for four decades, I have seen that capacity building/ community education works. We need not be limited by the mainstream Australian understanding of education, nor the cultural naming that suggests that Aboriginal adults will not be able to understand the information. In fact, Yolŋu people with the deepest levels of traditional knowledge will be able to understand complicated information much quicker than college-trained Yolŋu youth. This is due to highly-developed cognitive language construction that is part of their original Australian language that they speak.

Without this fundamental concept knowledge to demystify Balanda culture, details of cause and effect around medical, economic or legal issues make no sense and just become like, as one Yolŋu woman we spoke to says, “traps of strangling weeds”. Yet once people have a clear conceptual understanding of how the world works, they will then start to demand skills education right across their whole community.

Five capacity building programs

When people get answers to big WHY questions in their own language, they can find solutions within their own great resources to remedy their situation. Many of these solutions will be cost-negative to the government due to people being equally empowered, like other Australian citizens.

Listed below are five capacity building programs that could provide the building blocks to close the gap.

These building blocks can allow First Nations peoples to build their half of the bridge, bringing many of them back from their cultural refugee status, breaking the cycle of trauma, changing the culture of silence, and lessening the end-stage anti-social “problems” seen across many Aboriginal communities today.

  1. Community education

The first and most important of these building blocks is a community education program aimed at the adult population within a particular First Nations peoples language group. Good community education programs cover the major questions and themes necessary to understand how the world works.

These same programs could also make time in detention much more positive, where young people have a chance to receive real answers to many of the big questions they carry in their own language.

This would cover different themes, including economic, medical, legal and political/governance processes and structures. People also need access to good current affairs in their own language to keep them up-to-date with the conversations that are happening across Australia and around the world. These programs would also help develop the use of everyday English and encourage participation in formal education and training already available.

Although many Yolŋu people are suffering from high levels of chronic disease and sickness, basic economic literacy is, in my experience, one of the most essential education needs. The confusion around economics leads to a strong “them and us” negative response that we are seeing in youth across Arnhem Land today.

Economic literacy

Some financial literacy programs have been delivered for Yolŋu people. However, they started at the wrong place: understanding budgets and these types of specific skills are not what is needed.

Yolŋu are asking for and need the conceptual understanding of economics first.

Where does money come from? How does it work? Is it just printed? Does the government give it to their friends and themselves? Why can’t they make us all rich like they are?

Conversations in their own economic language will help deal with their specific confusions around contemporary economics. Many Yolŋu now believe that the government can “just print money and hand it out”, and others might say to them, “If you have a budget you always have money”. So some will think, “How can I get two or three budgets then”? While this type of thinking might sound absurd to many people in the mainstream, having spent four decades investigating and mapping the contradictions that Yolŋu have around contemporary economics, we know this level of confusion is real. Unless there is a program that deals with the specific economic contradictions, allowing people to investigate the subject on their own terms, the confusion will not disappear.

How can any group of people get excited about education or training, or develop businesses, if their core basic understanding of how worldwide contemporary economics operates is non-existent or very confusing?

If Yolŋu people believe that Balanda get all their housing, goods, and jobs by some form of government grants/ gifts, they will continue to believe this until they have other evidence that convinces them of the real situation. This same confusion will be handed onto their children who will conclude that it is Balanda who are stopping them from getting access to money and goods, setting up a no-win situation for all.

Good economic literacy programs will help Yolŋu people transition from traumatised people living on welfare to functioning citizens capable of seizing opportunities on their own resource-rich estates. There are endless unrealised business opportunities that currently exist across Arnhem Land, which we are working together with Yolŋu communities to help realise.

An example of resources we have created to help address economics questions from Yolŋu people, in Yolŋu Matha language, on our online learning platform:

The History of Money. Where did it come from?
Business. What does it really mean?
Yolŋu and Balanda confusion about each other’s business culture
What is Tax?

Q&As around economics questions from Balanda to help bridge the gap in understanding:

Q.79 “How do we break welfare cycles?”
Q.70 “How can remote Aboriginal communities have a sustainable future when they rely so heavily on government funding and do not have any (or very few) business enterprises?”
Q.55 “Aboriginal people are always getting free stuff from the government. Even some jobs are only for Aboriginal people. It’s not fair they get so many handouts.”


Health literacy

Similar arguments can be made about health literacy. As many Aboriginal people across the nation have no real understanding of germ theory, and other underlying fundamental health knowledge, their personal and communal conversations relating to the cause and effects of disease and sickness are non-existent. They are locked into a culture of silence around health issues.

Although Europeans suffered from the black plague in Europe hundreds of years ago, Aboriginal people in Australia had no similar experience until European diseases were introduced only 200 years ago. So there is an enormous gap in health knowledge and a lot of catching up for Yolŋu people to do.

Investment needs to be made into making sure the whole Aboriginal population across Australia is health literate.

Again, the mainstream idea is still to take a few younger Yolŋu people and turn them into doctors and health workers. This method of cultural empowerment will take many centuries for any real change to occur. For the same money it takes to train a few people, why not educate a whole population on the foundations of health literacy in their own language?

An example of resources we have created to help address health literacy questions from Yolŋu people, in Yolŋu Matha language, on our online learning platform:
Q.55 “Aboriginal people are always getting free stuff from the government. Even some jobs are only for Aboriginal people. It’s not fair they get so many handouts.”
What is lead? (deeper look at effects of petrol and AVGAS sniffing)
Why are Balanda so frightened of coronavirus?
Marijuana and its effects on the body

Q&As around health questions from Balanda to help bridge the gap in understanding:
Q31. Why is substance misuse like petrol sniffing so prevalent in Aboriginal communities?
Q13. What is the Yolŋu concept of illness and disease?
Q14. Why do many remote Aboriginal people eat such poor food that affects their health? How can this be changed?
Euthanasia and controlling your own crossover


Legal literacy

Strange legal and political/ governance systems are like a snare/trap for people who don’t understand them. So legal literacy is essential for Aboriginal language regions across Australia to create legal harmony within the Australian community. Good capacity building/ community education will allow them to investigate the whole legal/governance subject.

Translations for the programs we produce can also be made available in English, so everyone is on the same page and has the opportunity to understand the original Australian (Aboriginal) law. This might lead to more of us looking for ways where these two systems can operate together.

An example of resources we have created to help address legal questions from Yolŋu people, in Yolŋu Matha language, on our online learning platform:
What is Evidence? Real conversation around Yolŋu Law
Meaning of the word ‘parole’
What is a Tribunal?
The first Makarrata way

Q&As around legal questions from Balanda to help bridge the gap in understanding:
Q20. Wasn’t Aboriginal society pretty barbaric and controlled by harsh punishments?
Q34. If Aboriginal people were left to their own devices, wouldn’t we have payback happening all the time?
Q22. I’ve seen the term “Law” used about Aboriginal culture but shouldn’t it be “Lore”?
Broken parole or broken communication?


  1. Cultural competency – staff training

Good quality, in-depth cultural competency training (CCT) should be mandatory for all frontline workers working with Yolŋu and other First Nations people. This should include the learning of language and cross-cultural communication skills for all.

CCT can expose the cross-cultural naming scenario and work through issues of trauma and the culture of silence that is now prominent in many Aboriginal communities. CCT can also teach good communication skills and how to keep staff safe and working effectively in the cross-cultural cross-language environment.

Cross-cultural and basic cultural awareness courses are separate from CCT. They are very useful to teach good local information and customs to staff. However, they should not be seen in the same category as CCT.

The cost of government staff recruitment is phenomenal, and the cost to Aboriginal communities because of culturally incompetent mainstream personnel is unmeasurable in human suffering and missed opportunitie terms.

Having delivered CCT training for over four decades, I know from personal stories, how good CCT training can make a difference to massively reduce recruitment costs and trauma experienced by children and adults in Yolŋu and many other Aboriginal communities across Australia.

Good cultural competency training must become mandatory as a basic human right to culturally safe service access for Aboriginal people.

An example of some resources we have created around cultural competency:
What is cultural competency?
Never use the beckoning finger
Article on importance of beckoning finger and cultural mores
Understanding avoidance relationships – don’t pick up the baby!

** Watch this space — we are launching our online cross-cultural training course soon! (includes Yolŋu Worldview and Kinship structure training). Register your interest here. **


  1. Culturally appropriate schooling

The third fundamental building block is culturally appropriate schooling. The education system needs teachers who learn the local language to work more readily with traumatised young people, create safe and effective learning environments, control classrooms, be able to answer the students’ conceptual and linguistic questions, and provide genuinely effective education.

The coming and going of teachers is like backpacker tourism in Arnhem Land. While backpackers may be great at picking fruit for short periods of time, the same model is not good for building long term relationships with Yolŋu adults in the community or children and teens in a classroom. Nor are they able to communicate with the students at an intellectual level. Yolŋu students are being traumatised by the high turnover rates of teachers and left out in the social wilderness by a failed education process.

We need to equip teachers with language and cultural competency skills. Some might ask, “Will all teachers learn the language if they were given the resources and time”? The short answer is no – but some will. The teachers who do will stay and develop long-term relationships with the community. Then, as each new group of recruits join the same process, another few will learn, so after a number of years, we will have long-term teachers living in each community that can communicate sensitively and intellectually without further traumatising Yolŋu students. The savings to the government and positive outcomes for Yolŋu students and communities will be massive.

Culturally safe, linguistically constructive and intellectual learning environments will only exist when teachers come halfway and do their share of learning in a very complex cross-cultural, cross-language learning environment.

We are working to provide this training to teachers through mentoring packages, workshops and seminars, or in self-learning modules. Why Warriors has fifteen years of experience in teaching, language learning, cultural competency, community development/education and cross-cultural communication skilling.

An example of resources we have created on advice for mainstream people working with Yolŋu communities:

Part 1: Yolngu language structure
Part 2: Communication & use of silence
Part 3: Kinship structure & avoidance relationships
Part 4: Use of body language
Part 5: Use of eye contact
Part 6: Dress code

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  1. Constructive English lessons

Dealing with frontline crises every day in north-east Arnhem Land communities, I know providing constructive English learning lessons would be much more than just a building block. Daily we receive questions from Yolŋu as to what different English words mean. In medical situations, misunderstandings around English terms are quite literally killing Yolŋu people. In contemporary legal situations, they become entrapped in conflict situations with police and legal systems. Lack of understanding of the economic English language makes most conversations about employment and business development incomprehensible.

Week after week, people travel to Yolŋu communities to talk about all the different things that the government wants to share. Unfortunately, much of it ends up in a confusing mess, with more angry people on both sides blaming each other. It is a big waste of money.

English lessons could be delivered to the whole Yolŋu community through their own media conduit, i.e. Yolŋu Radio, and made available via the Internet on an online learning platform such as djambatjmarram where everyone in the language group can learn together. This is a well-established practice across the world. For example, many adult Fijian people coming to Australia learnt English via Fiji radio. Migrants coming to Australia are taught English through constructive English learning programs, but Yolŋu and other Aboriginal Australians have been left out in the cold.

No government since colonisation has provided a formal English language learning course that starts by working from the people’s language, as the instruction language, across to English. This should be seen as a national shame as it has locked Yolŋu and many other Aboriginal people out of the mainstream conversations, education, training, and access to mainstream services for far too long.

We want to work on this together with Yolŋu people in Arnhem Land, in the hope that the instruction language (Yolŋu Matha) can then be changed to other original Australian Aboriginal languages across Australia. This would include English language courses for Aboriginal people who speak an Aboriginal form of English or Kriol. Lessons could go on to a very high level of English where medical, legal, economic and other concept terms would also be covered.

Our Yolŋu online learning platform, djambatjmarram, provides resources around key topics: community development, economics, health, law, governance, including a dictionary of hard words. These resources (podcasts, videos, transcripts, online learning material) use a language called Gurrangay Matha, an academic form of Yolŋu Matha. Gurrangay Matha is used intentionally, as complex subjects cannot be explained in everyday, simple terms. By using academic language, our resources encourage inter-generational conversations as younger Yolŋu need to go back to their elders to ask questions. This effectively turns them back into educators within their society.

For more information, read our June 2021 newsletter. Click here to sign up for our newsletters!

An example of resources we have created to help address English language questions from Yolŋu people, in Yolŋu Matha language, on our online learning platform:
Meaning of hard words like ‘traditional’, ‘percentage’, ‘development’, ‘autonomy’. We have a living database of questions and hard concept words that Yolŋu people want conversations around to understand their meaning. Working together with Yolŋu researchers and co-producers, we take the time to investigate each subject and the relevant sub-concepts that crop up around them. This is ongoing, extremely time-consuming and difficult work, but absolutely vital to helping bridge the gap.

Q&As around English language learning questions from Balanda to help bridge the gap in understanding:
Q78. Are Aboriginal languages useful to be used in education?”
Q73. Wasn’t there a bilingual education program for Yolngu that was stopped because it didn’t work?
How language can lead to kidney failure
Are dictionaries only for dominant culture?


  1. Community workers

The final building block looks at doing what Captain Philip did not do! That is to train and send mainstream community workers/ educators to work alongside Yolŋu and other Aboriginal communities. This will give community members more access to mainstream cultural information and knowledge. Community workers are vital bridges who need language, cultural competency, community development/ education and communication training.

Good community workers can dig down to find out why young people are behaving the way they are and why they act as disenfranchised people within their own communities. If trauma and social-economic dysfunction and confusion are the reasons, then the only way to solve the problem is to have trained community workers working alongside Yolŋu people, including working with whole family units around these issues.

However, it will not work with the current government model, where community workers paid for by the government can only refer First Nations people to other mainstream professionals. The key factor that makes community workers efficient is that they have the language and cultural competency to work within that particular community. The mainstream professionals that community workers refer families or individuals to often have no language or cultural competency skills. We need to break this model of creating trauma across Aboriginal communities by not recognising the need for efficient and effective two-way communication; otherwise, the diagram above will exist in another hundred years.

Captain Philip had two options back in 1789: one was to do what he did, and it didn’t work. The second option was to find one of his officers who had a clear desire to learn the language and culture of the First Nations people. He needed someone who could go and live with them and help them investigate, in their own language, what was happening over on the left side of the harbour—allowing the First Nations people to demystify and understand the British/mainstream culture/language and structure.

He did have one such officer, but as often happens, when that officer became too close to the First Nations people, they are viewed with suspicion by the people in charge. This is what happened between Philip and William Dawes. Dawes was the only Berewalgal (meaning person from a distant place, i.e. European) who effectively started recording the Eora people’s language around Sydney Cove in those first few years. However, Dawes was forced back to England when Philip left, so the capacity building model never got a chance to be used. It’s a pity Philip’s unsuccessful colonial model was not put in a sealed jar and taken back to England rather than William Dawes. Things might have been different.

Part of the role of community workers would be to identify people’s questions and contradictions around medical, economic, legal and general current affairs.  We are now compiling this information, and storing it in a central database, informing the production of good community/adult education via radio and Internet resources, in their own language, eliminating the confusion and powerlessness that Yolŋu people are currently experiencing.

Community workers can help Yolŋu people and other First Nations groups find ways of being included in developing and maintaining their own communities, rather than the currently popular model of just having things done for and to them.

An example of some resources on community development in Yolŋu Matha language, on our online learning platform:
Modernise but keep language and culture
The impact of job losses on families

Q&As around English language learning questions from Balanda to help bridge the gap in understanding:
Community building – educate first in the creator space
Q51. What things work well for helping communities strengthen and come together?


These 5 building blocks can allow First Nations peoples to build their half of the bridge, bringing many back from their cultural refugee status, breaking the cycle of trauma, changing the culture of silence, and lessening the end-stage anti-social “problems” seen across many Aboriginal communities today.


This article “Antisocial Behaviour on Aboriginal Communities, is a reworked extract, taken from, Breaking of a People, written in by Richard Trudgen in 2016.

Richard Trudgen 2021

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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.

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