East Arnhem Land, Yolŋu Land

“You feel the wild spirit of the country” – Timmy Burarrwanga

The air is warm, the crescent beach is lined azure water and scattered with palm trees and a few dwellings. Timmy, the Traditional Owner of the land is smacking together his clapsticks and Uncle is playing the Didgeridoo as I watch the last light of the day sink below the islands dotting the horizon and begin to notice the heat from the fire as it licks my face.

We learn of skin names and of the Dhuwa and the Yirritja moieties and the yin and the yang of Yolngu culture. All the while, a saltwater crocodile named Nike lingers in the shore, he is a part of the family; everything is equal and balanced here in Bawaka homeland.

 

I laid down on my back and stared at the velvet sky of stars - observing and listening, into the dark night. I know that my time in East Arnhem Land with Lirrwi will stay with me for many years to come.

 

 

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Photo by Rob Mulally

Photo by Rob Mulally

Welcome to Bawaka homeland, Country of The Yolŋu People of North East Arnhem Land in The Northern Territory, a place I have dreamed of visiting for a very long time and one of the last great undiscovered places of beauty in Australia.

I was honoured to spend time with The Yolŋu People learning from part of the oldest living culture on the planet, who ancestry stretches back 50,000+ years.

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Located 60km south of the community of Yirrkala, Bawaka means “A Known Heaven.”

On arrival Timmy welcomes you to the land and Randy shows you the ways of life from traditional spearing + fishing to the wildlife, the natural beauty and the history of Country.

Beautiful billabongs surrounded by soaring escarpments and monsoon rainforests from which the first Yidaki (didgeridoos) were cut, home to turtles, dugongs and rare flora and fauna, the Yolŋu people are living and working on their traditional homelands and welcome you to share in this beauty with them.

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Away from it all you find yourself surrounded by the wild coastlines, hidden bays and islands and learning how to connect to the land, to the sea, to every little creature, to the wind, the sun-rising and setting. The natural scenery is breathtaking and it’s hard to believe that you are in the outback of Australia still, as you feel the worries of the world lift from your shoulders and time fade away, while you readily slip into the way of life here; a little slice of “known heaven” - it really is.

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Arriving in Darwin, I met with the crew (Hannah, Local Photographer -and pseudo tour guide- Aaron + Rob) as we set out for our week in the Top End of Australia. I’ve worked with Han many times in the past, often mentioning how visiting East Arnhem Land was a dream of mine, and it felt very surreal to land my bare feet on the red earth the next day and work on this very special project.

 

That week I went within. We live in such a fast-paced society and although my job relies on my connectedness to social media and my inbox, I flourish personally in places without any reception at all.

 

Spending time to slow down, connect to the county and appreciate each moment and its small gifts. That week taught me so much and reminding me of the beauty in nature and human to human/ human to country connection.

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Photo by Rob Mulally

Photo by Rob Mulally

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The central beliefs of the Yolngu people, including the moiety (kinship) system that blurs the relationships between individuals and their families, are that no person is a stranger, and everyone is welcome on Bawaka Country - this is a beautiful sentiment we can collectively learn from and appreciate.

 

Thank you for capturing my heart with your ever-present magic, Northern Territory.

I know it won’t be long before I return.

 

M. x

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I pay my deep respects to the Traditional Custodians of the land for their elders’ past, present & future. I stand strong beside the true custodians of this beautiful land. Always was, always will be, aboriginal land.

 

*All portrait images captured with consent from Jari, and his father Randy. Please remember, a portrait is given to you, it is not something you take.

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