Getting to the Bottom of the Violence

In 2005, thirty-eight traditional Yolngu (Aboriginal) laws were shared with the Australian English-speaking public for the first time in 200 years. These laws came out of the higher combined Dhuwa clan Ngaarra parliaments of northeast Arnhem Land.

Download the full 38 laws document here.

Many say we need to work for generational change.

Well-known author and Arnhem Land Community Educator Richard Trudgen said last week, “Well, the generational change that the present Balanda (white man’s) colonial system has delivered to the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land is from lawfulness to lawlessness; from functioning communities to dysfunctional ones; from high levels of employment to massive unemployment; from international trade and business development to almost no business development and international trade; from very low levels of morbidity and mortality to the highest disease and death rates in the world; from low jailing rates to the highest imprisonment rates in the world; from a hungry desire for education to almost no appetite for education or training.

How many more disastrous world records in human disempowerment does Australia want to deliver to their First Nations people just because Yolngu and other traditional Aboriginal people do not speak English well and do not understand British culture?”

Laws that all Yolngu have assented to

The above thirty-eight laws are some of the laws that all Yolngu people have assented to through a ceremonial process for thousands of years.

They are part of the original Australian legal system

Yolngu believe these laws were given to them by the Great Creator Spirit Wangarr, through the Creator Spirits, and they have maintained them through many thousands of years until today.

Some will ask, “So if they have these traditional laws, why is there so much lawlessness”?

The lawlessness we see now is a very recent development. Richard continues, “When I came to live with Yolngu in the 1970s, Yolngu communities were some of Australia’s safest, most peaceful and lawful places, especially for young single women. We never had to lock our homes or worry about being assaulted. And no one would steal anything. The traditional Yolngu laws kept everyone safe.”

These traditional laws have been undermined or broken down today. This is due to the Territory and federal governments failing to acknowledge the original Australian law operating in Yolngu and other Aboriginal communities across the NT.

Massive confusion and loss of respect

Most of the lawlessness we now see in Aboriginal communities and major centres comes from very confused, angry Aboriginal youth. This is a product of the failed relationship between the traditional First Nations people and the mainstream English-speaking Balanda people.

This stems from an Intergenerational Transfer of Confusion about the contemporary “colonial” Balanda legal system; confusion which has been handed down from the Yolngu parents and elders to their children. This confusion is due to a lack of good accessible information that they can understand in their own language, resulting in this powerless confusion, lawlessness, anger and kickbacks.

It should be remembered that both the parents and these young people speak English as a second, third or even fifth language. Some of their languages have only been translated into English in the last 80 years, and they do not use English in everyday life. This means that Yolngu in general, understand very little about the contemporary Australian legal and economic systems through the usual English media and educational processes.

So the Yolngu community see the “sophisticated, wealthy Balanda” completely denying and undermining the original Australian law they have lived by. The loss of traditional law has resulted in an increase in disorder and crime. They see this colonial Balanda law as promoting lawlessness, just as the Balanda governments continue showing disrespect and contempt towards their democratically selected traditional political leaders and the traditional peacekeepers/police.

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For online or phone interviews, please contact Richard Trudgen

Email:   or call 0400 880 954

Richard Trudgen has been working with the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land for over 50 years. He speaks Djambarrpuyŋu and is the author of Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. He is the CEO of Why Warriors Pty Ltd, a community development social enterprise company that empowers Yolngu and other First Nations people by providing access to information and building capacity and understanding between Australian Aboriginal people and the Dominant Culture.

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Richard Trudgen

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