Basic Parameters of Yolŋu Law and Governance – Book


Basic Parameters of Yolŋu Law and Governance provides the essentials of Yolŋu governance and the Maḏayin system of law in an attempt to outline necessary power bases and authorities for proper decision-making in the Yolŋu space. The information in this document will help inform the implementation of processes considered legitimate by the north-east Arnhem Land community and therefore contribute to successful consultative, negotiation and dispute resolution outcomes.

Basic Parameters of Yolŋu Law and Governance is the first time an aggregated account of the Maḏayin system of law has been printed. It is foundational for work in north-east Arnhem Land; for any community development work, anthropological study and ethnography, policy construction, contractual negotiations, land use consultations, it also has multiply justice applications– the list goes on.

The booklet was developed over the six-year duration of the East Arnhem Mediation and Restorative Justice Project. The project was based in Galiwin’ku and operational over the north-east Arnhem Land region.

A note from Richard Trudgen:

This 43-page book is a real game-changer. Anyone wanting to know about Traditional Aboriginal Law or just get a glimpse of one of the beautifully complex democratic codes of law and practice that have been part of this country, this is the book for you. Though not a large book, it goes far beyond ‘basic parameters’. It contains a depth of Yolŋu law rarely seen in print, whether produced by expensive government consultancies or taught in top Australian university courses.

Over the last decade, ‘Aboriginal customary law’ has been sadly and unfairly maligned in Australian politics and media commentaries. This booklet can help correct that with its compassionate and respectful account of one of the few remaining examples of the Original Australian system of law still practised in Australia today.

I hope Basic Parameters of Yolŋu Law and Governance can add to the discourse that moves Australia towards recognising and utilising the incredible 40+ thousand years of knowledge of First Nation peoples in this country’s foundation.

We need to stop the modern-day version of cultural knowledge genocide that we thought the missionaries of old were experts at. Let’s stop the constant denial and denigration and start looking for the truth in relation to the original Australian law system.

Yolngu people continually characterise this law system as creating a state of mägaya (Shalom), a democratic legal system where the rights of the people are paramount over that of their traditionally chosen and sworn political leaders/servants. These real Australian (traditional) political leaders are still unrecognised by governments and mainstream institutions due to the continuous unsubstantiated and false Western naming of Yolngu culture. To support our belief that Yolŋu madayin [ma – day – in] law was the original democratic system of law that brought peace to Yolngu communities and could do it again if given half a chance, we are keeping the price of this resource as low as possible.

Finally, this whole subject needs a larger volume as so many of the cross-cultural terms used in the Yolngu madayin law system are hard for English speakers to fully comprehend. However, this is a great start.

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Written by: Kendall Trudgen 2018

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