Wednesday, 29 Nov 2023

Our voice is the spirit of this country: connecting Yolngu parliament in Arnhem Land to Canberra

Our voice is the spirit of this country: connecting Yolngu parliament in Arnhem Land to Canberra


Our voice is the spirit of this country: connecting Yolngu parliament in Arnhem Land to Canberra

Yolngu parliament in north-east Arnhem Land is not a building and it's not on a map. But the Ngarra is a powerful place where Yolngu clan leaders have met to govern their land, lives and culture for thousands of years.

The authority of Ngarra is embedded in the landscape as sand sculptures and projected to the world through intricate bark paintings.

Baniyala is famous for another reason. In 2008 the high court's landmark determination in the Blue Mud Bay case declared that Yolngu own the land between the low and high water mark along most of the NT coastline, and recognised First Nations' interest in the "sea country" of the intertidal zone for the first time in Australian history.

Djambawa Marawili is the leader of the Yolngu Yithuwa Madarrpa clan, and has authority to stand inside Ngarra to send a message to that other parliament down south, the one in Canberra.

Djambawa's message is about the Indigenous voice to parliament. English is his third or fourth language; he says he speaks about nine. He has decided to craft a message in English so people in the southern states can understand the connection between Yolngu law, culture and worldview, and the importance of having their voice heard in the Australian parliament.

"Our voice is the law of this country. This law, which we call rom, was given to us by our ancestors and has safeguarded our people, country and culture for thousands of years," he says.

"Our voice is the spirit of this country, our ancestral spirits are both powerful and gentle, dangerous and safe and strengthen us to live with honour and dignity."

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