The Voice of the Homelands

During the latter half of 2007, listening to the debates about the Intervention, I often wondered (sometimes aloud) where the voice of the Aboriginal people was. Plenty of people spoke on behalf of Aboriginal communities, and on both sides of any issue. But with a few exceptions, people like Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton or Tom Calma and Larrissa Behrendt, Aboriginal voices were unheard. There was certainly little published from inside the communities that were to be most affected by the policies of the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

Now, two years later, history seems to be cycling back around on itself with the announcement from Jenny Macklin’s ministry of plans to consolidate “outstations” into “real towns.” (The Indigneous people who were ostensibly consulted in the run-up to the policy’s development expressed their preference for the term “homelands” as more indicative of the true nature of their relationship to the places they have chosen to live, but that idea was passed over, too.)

This time, however, there are Indigenous voices that can be heard speaking directly from the homelands, thanks in part to the growing sophistication of their inhabitants with media, especially video that goes out to the world via YouTube. The Yolngu have been leaders in this area for a long time now, as the success of the Mulka Project indicates, but also as documented in studies like Jennifer Deger’s exemplary Shimmering Screens: making media in an Aboriginal community (University of Minnesota Press, 2006). 

A few months ago, a series of interviews called “Listen and Accept Our Voice!” (“Buthurru Wetjurra ga Marranga Nganapurrunggu Rirrakay!”) was published on YouTube that offers the chance to hear what some people from the MataMata Homelands have to say about the government’s programs. “We created this video because the Government never listens to Yolngu voices,” they said. “They create laws and policies aimed at Yolngu people without listening to what we think and feel.” YolnguVideo says that these short films were

Created in response to the Northern Territory and Federal Government’s continued attempts to close down Indigenous Homeland communities.

Yolngu and other Indigenous people have been living on their Homelands since before Settlement. Since missionary days they have asserted their desire to remain on their own traditional country. Most people thought this right was enshrined in the Land Rights Act (NT).

However, current and recent Government policies have been effectively coercing Yolngu and other Indigenous people off their country. These measures include rolling back basic services to Homelands, and closing schools while simultaneously linking school attendance to parental social service payments.

To read about the latest Government attacks on Homeland life see: http://www.action.nt.gov.au/outstations/

Don Dhakaliny Burarrwangga and Batumbil speak out in response to simple questions: what’s different about Yolngu and Balanda law? What’s the best life for Yolngu? What does the Government do that is bad for Yolngu people? What does the Government do that is good for Yolngu people? Listen to what they have to say.  [Update, 2012: Although the links still work, the videos at YouTube do not play.]

Yolngu Message: Interview One 

Yolngu Message: Interview Two; Part 1/3 

Yolngu Message: Interview Two; Part 2/3 

Yolngu Message: Interview Two; Part 3/3 

My thanks to Wamut at that mununga linguist for alerting me to these video posts.

For more good reading on the Territory Government’s scheme to empty the homelands, check out Bob Gosford’s recent posts at The Northern Myth on “Growth Towns,” the Tiwi Land Council, and the “Working Future.”


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