the small community of Maningrida is remarkable for many reasons. It is one of the most linguistically diverse communities in the world, with 15 languages spoken or signed every day among only a couple of thousand people.
Velda Winunguj, a board member of Dhimurru, says the ranger jobs are important not just to provide a career path for young people but for the important cultural, environmental and social values.
Australia is the only Commonwealth country never to make a treaty with its indigenous peoples. Why has it proven so difficult? Kathy Marks looks at the vast challenges in Victoria alone – a state that is working towards a national first.
Leading Aboriginal artists and arts workers from across northern Australia will spend the next two weeks taking part in a ground-breaking Indigenous education program at the University of Melbourne.
One of our ambassadors, illustrator Ann James, and Tina Raye and Nicole Whiles from our team have just returned from Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land. Their trip was dual purpose: to conduct writing workshops with a group of kids from Nhulunbuy Primary School and to boost our Book Buzz progam in local playgroups.
Late last year, Ann, along with ILF Progam Coordinator, Cindy Manfong and Ann Haddon from Books Illustrated, spent a week at the school on the Gove Peninsula. The kids produced some beautiful illustrations for a book reflecting their life by the sea.
“They are coastal people, and what these students drew just blew me away,” says Tina, our Program Manager.
Over a week, this group of talented 7- to 12-year-olds developed a story, using their artworks as the springboard for this second burst of creativity.
Ann enlarged the students’ illustrations onto large sheets of paper and tacked them onto the long wall of the school’s biggest classroom, to jog memories and provide additional inspiration.
“It was like a long frieze, 21 metres long. The kids were totally amazed seeing their drawings like that. And so big! There was lots of chatter, a great deal of excitement,” said Tina.
English is not the first language for these youngsters who mostly come from the outlying communities of Wallaby Beach and Ski Beach (Gunyangara), 10 and 15 kilometres west of the town of Nhulunbuy respectively. They speak Yolgnu Matha at home and among themselves, although in the classroom all lessons are in English. A local Yolgnu woman, Lisa Dhurrkay translated so all the story telling could take place in the kids’ first language.
“This was very important,” Tina explains. “The kids understand English but are most confident when speaking Yolgnu Matha.”
The finished book will be produced in two versions. One will be in Yolgnu Matha and will be gifted to communities and schools like Nhulunbuy and Yirrkala where Yolngu Matha is the students’ first language. The other will be mostly in English, with some Yolgnu Matha words. It will be distributed to remote Indigenous communities, schools and organisations across Australia through our Book Supply program, and will also be available for sale in 2019 at selected bookshops and on the ILF website.
While in Nhulunbuy, Nicole (our Early Literacy Supervisor) also visited FaFT programs (Families as First Teachers) in the NT at Ski Beach (Gunyangara) and at Yirrkala. She had a great time meeting families and their children and talking about the Book Buzz program.
“The mothers were very excited about the prospect of having some of the picture and board books we supply translated into their own language. And they love being involved in choosing the books [from our catalogue] to use in their playgroups,” said Nicole.
Meanwhile, the designer Lee Burgemeestre, is laying out the pages with Ann James and Ann Haddon and tweaking the design of the Nhulunbuy Primary students’ book. Soon Lisa will be back at the school helping the kids with a final check of their text before the book goes to print, ready to be launched some time in 2019. We can’t wait to see it!
Posted 24 August, 2018
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The artist, John Mawurndjul, is an aboriginal man with a white beard, a furrowed brow and a springy halo of white hair. Born in 1952, he currently lives in Maningrida, an indigenous community of about 2,000 people in Arnhem Land, on the continent’s north coast, facing Indonesia.
The five planets we can see by naked eye were known to the ancient Greeks as “asteres planetai”, meaning “wandering stars”, due to their wandering journey across the sky relative to the fixed stars. This is where we get the word “planet”. But knowledge of the planets and their movements goes back much further, being prominent in the traditions of the oldest continuing cultures in the world.
A Yolngu artwork on aluminium depicting fish traps and the flow of water to the sea in the Arnhem Land wet season has won this year’s overall prize at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.
This year five of the seven winning works are from Yolngu artists, including four from the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, an Aboriginal arts centre in Yirrkala.
The judges chose 66 finalists from more than 300 entries across the country.
“For me, the strength of the Yolngu work speaks to happy artists who are being well supported and artists who are being encouraged to be adventurous,” Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, one of the award’s judges, said.
Many Aboriginal Australians would say with conviction that they have always been here. Their ancestors and traditional learnings tell them of this history, and their precise place within it.
Our review of the scientific evidence, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that for all practical purposes, this is indeed the case.
Their ancestors arrived shortly after 50,000 years ago – effectively forever, given that modern human populations only moved out of Africa 50,000-55,000 years ago.
Long connection to country
Earlier genetic analysis of historic Aboriginal hair samples confirmed the incredibly long and deep relationships between individual Aboriginal groups and their particular country. The small locks of hair were collected during anthropological expeditions across Australia from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Analysis of maternal genetic lineages revealed that Aboriginal populations moved into Australia around 50,000 years ago. They rapidly swept around the west and east coasts in parallel movements – meeting around the Nullarbor just west of modern-day Adelaide.
Archaeological sites and dates (shown above) closely match the genetic estimates. This indicates a very rapid movement throughout Australia 48,000-50,000 years ago.
Out of Africa
It was only a few thousand years earlier that a small population of modern humans moved out of Africa. As they did, they met and briefly hybridised with Neandertals before rapidly spreading around the world.
They became the genetic ancestors of all surviving modern human populations outside of Africa, who are all characterised by a distinctive small subset of Neandertal DNA – around 2.5% – preserved in their genomes.
This distinctive marker is found in Aboriginal populations, indicating they are part of this original diaspora, but one that must have moved to Australia almost immediately after leaving Africa.
How to get to Australia 50,000 years ago
The movement from Africa to Australia culminated in a series of hazardous sea voyages across island southeast Asia.
Recent studies suggest the last voyage, potentially between Timor/Roti and the northern Kimberley coast, would have involved advanced planning skills, four to seven days paddling on a raft, and a total group of more than 100 to 400 people.
The possibility that earlier waves of modern human populations might have moved out of Africa before 50,000 years has also been raised.
But in our review of these events, we point out that there is no convincing fossil evidence to support this idea beyond the Middle East.
One of the most important claimed potential early sites is in northern Australia, at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in Arnhem Land. Human presence here was recently declared at more than 65,000 years ago.
This 65,000-year date has rapidly become accepted as the age for colonisation of Australia. It has appeared widely in the media and elsewhere, in political statements and comments by the Prime Minister.
But there is good reason to question a 65,000-year date, and the extent to which this contrasts with the sudden wave of archaeological sites that sweep across Australia shortly after 50,000 years ago.
This rapid archaeological manifestation at 50,000 years is a perfect match for the genetic evidence from Aboriginal maternal, paternal, and genomic lineages, and a far better fit with the extinction of Australia’s megafauna around 42,000 years ago.
An age limit for human migration
One of the most interesting ways we can date the dispersal of modern humans around the globe, including Australia, is through that original interbreeding event with Neandertals as we left Africa.
About a decade ago, an ancient human leg bone was found on the banks of a Siberian river by an ivory hunter. Radiocarbon-dated at 43,000-45,000 years ago, the entire genome of this individual, named Ust’-Ishim after the site, was sequenced using the latest ancient DNA technology.
The genomic sequence revealed the bone contained the standard 2.5% Neandertal DNA signal carried by all non-Africans. But it was still present in large continuous blocks and had yet not been dispersed into fragments around the genome as we see in more recent ancestors and ourselves.
In fact, the size of the blocks showed that the 43,000-45,000-year-old Ust’-Ishim specimen could only be a maximum of 230-430 generations after that initial Neandertal liaison, dating our movement out of Africa to no more than 50,000-55,000 years ago.
50,000 years, or more than 65,000 years?
Given the evidence is so strong that the ancestors of modern human populations only started moving around the world 50,000-55,000 years ago, could the human activity at Madjedbebe really be more than 65,000 years old?
One of the major limitations of the Madjedbebe study is that the stone artefacts themselves weren’t dated, just the surrounding sand layers.
As a result, over time, even the slightest downward movement of the artefacts within the unconsolidated sand layers at Madjedbebe would make them appear too old.
We identify a range of factors which are common around the site, such as termite burrowing and heavy rainfall, that could cause stone artefacts to sink.
Many archaeological signs suggest activity at Madjedbebe is actually much younger than 65,000 years, and overall, the extent to which the site is an outlier to the rest of the Australian record should raise a red flag.
Connection to country
Either way, Aboriginal Australians have effectively been on their country as long as modern human populations have been outside of Africa.
How does this help us better understand Aboriginal history? By appreciating the enormous depth of time that Aboriginal groups have been on their own particular country, and the extent to which all their history, knowledge, and ancestors form part of that country.
It is this gulf between a European history of constant migration and global dispersal, and the profoundly deep Aboriginal connection to one particular part of the world, that leads to failures to comprehend why being on country is not simply “a lifestyle choice”, but a fundamental part of their identity.
Dr Graham Brown, a research associate from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, was a contributor on this article.
Alan Cooper, Director, Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide; Alan N Williams, Associate Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, UNSW, and Nigel Spooner, Adjunct professor, University of Adelaide
Australian novelist Richard Flanagan says the Turnbull government wrote itself out of history and wasted a chance at reconciliation when it rejected last year’s Uluru Statement which recommended giving Aboriginal people a voice in parliament.
Mr Flanagan said most Australians didn’t know about and would be horrified at the full extent of massacres and “wars of extermination” that had never ended for Aboriginal people to this day.
“My warning is this: if we here in Australia do not re-imagine ourselves we will be undone,” he said.