A Prayer for Maypal : Welcome to the wonderful world of Shellfish

Maypal, Mulkuṉ, Outstation, and Will Stubbs.



Welcome to the wonderful world of



I guess most of us could name a few;

oysters, mussels, clams, hermit crabs,

mudcrabs. But then it starts to peter

out. The inspiration for this show was an

amazing publication put out by NAILSMA

with documentation by Bentley James,

Photography by David Hancock and

incredible design by Therese Ritchie. Its

full title is Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish,

Meaning and Place. A Yolŋu Bilingual

Identification Guide to Shellfish of North East

Arnhem. It has the weight and feel of a

prayer book. And in a way it is.


It is a reverence for these sacred

foodstuffs that define and sustain the

magical coast that we live on. But instead of

that handful of species that we sleepwalkers

can name there are over two hundred

pages of individual edible Maypal with

multiple Yolŋu names, their Latin tag and

where available an English Common name.


It is a prayer that the existence of this

knowledge and these names be infinite. It

is a ritual incantation of this knowledge and

these names that they may live on in the

hearts and minds of the people who live

with them for eternity.


This is an excerpt from a wonderful show to be hosted at BUKU-LARRŊGAY MULKA CENTRE on August the first 2018. The show is as yet a secret but I can tell you that it coincides with the opening at ‘OUTSTATION’ of the Miḏawarr harvest show by Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda and John Wolseley. Will gets it. More than that he is it, he lives it, he loves Maypal, he is a shellfish aficionado, little wonder he has been power behind so many great projects. He introduced me to Mulkun and we laughed our way through buckets of Maypal. Mulkuṉ is my mukul bapa (father’s sister) in Yolngu kinship. I am her gathu (son) and her dog is my wawa (brother). Oh isn’t life a terrible thing, and the sea is full with Maypal. But fracking will put an end to that.



There are a few camp dogs that live on Gukuḏa street, but the cutest of them all is Nyumukuŋiny.


Photographed by Therese Ritchie

My name is Doris Yethun Beyalŋa Dhambiŋ Burarrwaŋa.

Yäkuny ŋarra dhuwala Doris Yethun Burarrwaŋa

This is the story of my struggle to teach children why it’s important they know their country.

Dhuwanydja dhäwu ŋarrakuŋu nhäwiku marŋgithinyaraw djamarrkuḻiw, dhiyak djäkaw limurrukalaŋaw wäŋaw


When I was a little girl I heard the story of where I was born from my Father

Ŋunhi ŋarra yothu yan ŋarra ŋäkul dhäwu ŋayi gan bapamirriŋuy lakaraŋal ŋarrakal. Gaṯirri Burrawaŋa ga ŋäṉḏimirriŋur Wapulkuma Gurrwiwi.

He told me I was born 20.10.1958 in the mangrove near Doltji at a place called Larthaŋaŋur near to where the big pearling farm on Cape Wilberforce is now situated. When I was born I was wrapped in paperbark to keep warm.

Ŋayi lakaram ŋarrakal ŋunhi ŋarra dhawal-guyaŋirr 20.10.58 gathulŋur galki Doltji wäŋaŋur yäkuyŋur Lathaŋaŋur ŋunhi dharrwa mala ga ŋorra Gulawu Cape Wilburforce-ŋur. Ŋunhi ŋarra dhawal-guyaŋinany dhurrthurryurra ŋarrany raŋandhun gurrmurkuŋala. Ŋarraku gurruṯumirr mala gan nhinan Lathaŋaŋur ga ŋunhal Beyalŋaŋur.

My mother and father and family stayed at Larthaŋaŋur yurr räŋiŋur munatha wiyin’ŋur on the long beach called walit. It was there that my father gave me the names Lathaŋa and Beyalŋa. My family put me into the canoe my father had made and paddled back down the peninsular to the homelands at Maṯamaṯa. We had two canoes, one called Djulpan and the other called Bamaṯuka. We travelled altogether. Here is a picture of us at Maṯamaṯa when I was a girl.

Ŋarraku gurruṯumirr rulaŋthurr ṉakulil ŋarrakal bapamirriŋuy djäma marrwala bala yarrupthurra Peninsular-kurra balan roŋiyirra balan Maṯamaṯalil napurr ga ŋayatham märrma’ ṉaku yäku djulpan ga wiripuny yäku Bamaṯuku bukmak napurr ga rrambaŋi marrtji, dhuwal mayali’ wuŋili napurr ŋunhal Maṯamaṯaŋur dhuwal napurr mali’ ŋunhi ŋarra yothu.

Me and my dad and family at Maṯmaṯa 1959


When I was a young girl of and up until the age of 7, I would travel around with my parents to different places in the country. I would help my father make fire and do things. I really like stories. I would sit on my father’s knee and he would tell me stories about his life, our family and the country. At different times of the year we would travel to different places and there we would learn the names of the country and the stories of the places.

Ga yan bili ŋunhi ŋarra marrtjin ŋuthar ga goŋ-märrma’ (7 years old) ŋarrany gan malthurra Yan ŋarrakalaŋaw ŋäṉḏimirriŋuw ga bapamirriŋuw ga marrtjinay napurr gan ḻiw’maraŋal wiripuŋuli ga wiripuŋulil wäŋalil ga ŋarra ŋuli guŋgayun ŋarraku bapamirriŋuny, yurr gurtha djäma ga wiripu mala ŋarra ŋuli ga guŋgayun, yurr mirithirrnydja ŋarra ŋuli gan djälthin dhäwuw ŋänharaw. Ŋarra ŋuli mulkurr ŋalyun moriwal bala ŋayi ŋuli dhäwun lakaram ŋarraku ŋunhi nhältjarr ŋayi gan marrathin, ga gurruḏu mala ŋarraku ga wäŋa mala ga nhä ŋayi ŋarraku yuwalk ŋunhi wäŋa, ga bitjarri bili yan marrtjin wiripuŋulil ga marŋgithin yan marrtjin.

Me and miss Western, a little girl I cant remember now, and Ruth Mula at Sheperdson College.


When I was eight years old I moved to Galiwin’ku. At Galiwin’ku I went to school. At school I made lots of friends. This was the time of Papa Sheppi (Rev. Harold Shepherdson). My girlfriends and I would leave school and go for walks after school. Together we learnt about friendship and each other’s country and each other’s lives. We would learn about this place Galiwin’ku and the flowers and the plants and the seasons and the animals and the fish and the shellfish. Later when I was a little older Ian Morris would take us out to learn about the animals of this Place. It was here at Galiwin’ku that we first came into contact with Balanda and here we learnt about Balanda law.

Ga ŋunhi ŋarra wirrkuḻyinan bala ŋarra marrtjinan Galiwin’kulila ga dhiyala ŋarra marrtjinan wukirrilila, bala ŋarra ḻundumirriyirra balanyamirriy Shepherdson gan nhinanan dhiyal ŋarraku ḻunḏumirriŋu mala napurr ŋuli marrtji dhawar’yunaŋur wukirriŋur, ga marŋgithin napurr gan marr-ŋamathinyamirriw romgu ga wäŋaw napurruŋgalŋaw wäŋaw ga romku bala räliyunmirr napurruŋgalaŋaw romgu mala ga margithirra ga balanda romgu.

What is most important are the stories of the country. All of the different countries have stories and languages and colours and dances and ceremonies. These dances and ceremonies and colours are the linkages that tie all the people of this place together, and to the land. It is a network of links to our ancestors and their stories and their creations that make us all one people. It is these understandings about the importance of our myths, about our languages, that are so critical at this time when the Balanda are taking over our country. This is the work that I do, that I love, because I understand how important it is to be related to country, and to know the stories and language of my country.

Nhä dhuwal mirithirrnydja manymak limurr dhu ga marŋgikum ga dhäwu märram’ dhiyak wäŋaw, bukmak dhuwal mala dhäruk, minytji’, buŋgul ga ŋula-nha mala ga ŋayadham. Ga dhiyaŋ mala buŋgulyu ga manikayu ga dhäruk dhu ga wäŋay ga waŋgany manapan yolŋuny malany. Dhuwandja nhäkun balanya rulwaŋdhunawaynha walalaŋguŋ ŋaḻapalmirriwuŋ ŋäthilyunawuy bitjarr walal gan wäŋan ga dhiŋgaŋal walal. Dhuwandja nhäkun dharaŋanaraw nha yuwalk, dhiyak napurruŋ yolŋuw mala dharaŋanharaw bäpurruw malaŋuw bala ga balandany buna bala ga gulmaraman ga yakayuna dhiyak malaw bala ga Djawyuna ga djäma mala ga gurrupan ga wiripun djäma mala Balanya mala ŋarra ŋuli ga djäma dhiyal wukirriŋur dharaŋan ga manapan balayi wäŋalil.

I designed the badge for the learning on country program at Galiwin’ku.

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The learning on country project is a way for me to teach children about their relationships to country to the sea to the freshwater country to the bush. I can talk to them about their relationships to the animal, plants, birds and fish of the country that they live in. I can tell them about the seasonal availability of bush resources and the return of certain kinds of animals in the seasonal round. I talk to children about when to light fires, and in what kind of country to light fire, and whose country that is, and most importantly, I teach the children about their relationship to each other and the country that they live on.20180519_162109

Dhuwal marŋgikunharaw wäŋaw djäma ŋarra djäl dhiyak, märr ŋarra dhu ga marŋgikum walalany Gurruṯu ga wäŋa mala warrkan, dharpa ga mulmu mala, ŋarirri’, borum, maypal ga Gurruwilyun (Seasons) ga dharaŋan mala retjaŋur, ga ruŋanmaram ŋunhi ga girri’ mala ga bäki ŋunha bili yan nhä ga ŋorra ŋunhiliyi wäŋaŋur. Waŋa djamarrkuḻiwal’ dhiyakuwuy nhältjan ga nhätha dhu gurtha djuŋguryun waluy, ga yolku wäŋa ga waṯaŋu ga nhätha dhu dhuŋguryun bili dhuwal wäŋany ŋurruŋu. Limurruŋgal limurr dhu marŋgikum djamarrkuḻin’y limurruŋgalaŋaw wäŋaw mala nhinanharaw.

I am helping to teach children why it’s important they know about the fish traps on their country. This is a story about teaching children to see what is there, and about learning to see what cannot be seen.

Dhiyaŋu bala dhuwandja dhäwu ŋarrakuŋu nhäwiku guŋgyun marŋgithinyaraw djamarrkuḻiw’ gaṉḏamu ga ganybu mala ga dharra dhiyak djäkaw limurrukalaŋaw wäŋaw. Dhuwandja dhäwu ŋunhi nhä ga ŋorra marŋgithirr ŋunhi nhe dhu waŋa ŋäma ga nhäma ga nhina.



This is a story about what is there and what cannot be seen. This is a story about teaching people to see what is there, about learning to see what cannot be seen with the eyes. This is a story about a place named Ŋayawili, Ŋayawili was named by the ancestors who made this place. Ŋayawili is the place of the fish trap.

Dhuwandja dhäwu ŋunhi nhä ga ŋorra ŋunha bala. Wiripuny nhä ga ŋorra, ŋunhi nhe ga bäyŋun nhäman. Nhe dhu marŋgithirr ŋunhi nhe dhu waŋa ŋäma ga nhäma ga nhina. Dhuwal dhäwu yan marŋgikunharaw yolŋu-yulŋuny, nhä ga ŋorra ŋunhiliyi. Dhuwandja dhu ga marŋgikum nhänharaw, ŋunhi bäyŋun nhe ga nhäma nhokal melyu. Dhuwandja dhäwu yan Gaṉḏamuny ga Ganybuwuy. Ga yäkuny dhuwal wäŋany Ŋayawili. Ŋayawili yäku nherrpar ŋaḻapaḻmirriy ŋunhi walal gan nhinan dhiyal wäŋa. Ga Ŋayawili dhuwal wäŋa yäku, ga Ganybu ga Gaṉḏamu ga ŋorra djämapuy walalaŋguŋ. Ŋunha bamanbuy.



When you sit down and listen to the country it will talk to you. Here in the country you can hear the stories of those who have been here before. If you listen to the wind and the words of the songs you will learn to hear the voices of the ancestors.


Ŋunhi nhe dhu nhina ga ŋäma, wäŋany ŋayi dhu ga waŋa nhokal. Ŋunhi nhe dhu nhina ga dhäkay ŋama’ nheny dhu dharaŋana bala nhe dhu maŋgithirra bulun. Dhiyal wäŋaŋur nhe dhu dhäwu ŋäma ŋunhi walal nhenan gan ŋathil baman’. Ga dhuwal wäŋay ga ŋayatham birrimbirryun walalaŋgal ŋunhi walal gan nhinan ŋäthil dhiyal ga yurr nha limurr. Ŋunhi nhe dhu ŋäma watany ga yäku mala, ŋunha manikayŋur ŋäma ga gapu rirrakay, bala nhe dhu marŋgithirra marrtji rirraykaywun ŋaḻapaḻmirriwnha ŋayi dhu ga waŋan nhokal. Ŋunhiyiny ŋaḻapaḻmirr mala ŋurukiyiw ganybuw ga wäŋaw dhuwal Ŋayawiliŋur.



Those who have gone before laid down the law of the fish traps say that you must not pass water near the fish traps. You must not light a fire and you must not shout out or whistle near the fish traps because the ancestors will not give you any fish.

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Ŋunhiwurr mala bäyŋun barrkun ŋorran ga nherrpanawuynha walalaŋguŋ ŋunha ganybu. Ga romdja ga waŋa bitjan, yaka waryurr gaki Ganybuŋur, ga Gaṉḏamuŋur. Wiripuny ga rom ŋorra, yaka gurtha dhuŋguryurr, wiripuny, yaka gurtha galkikurr gäŋu. Ga wiripuny walalaŋ ŋaḻapaḻmirriw rom ga waŋa, yaka yätjurr ga yaka wir’yurr galki Gaṉḏamu ga Ganybuŋur.  Walal dhu bäyŋun gurrupan ŋarirriny’.



The ḏilkurruwurru (forerunners) always situated fish traps near fresh water and closed tropical forest with useful timber and fruit trees. At places where the rocks are situated in an easy position for moving and where there are lots of maypal too.


Ga ganybuy ŋunha Ŋayawili ga dharra ŋunhi walal, ḻiya ḻapmaram märr limurr dhu marrtji marŋgikum ŋunhi walal gan nhinan, märr ŋali dhu marŋgi gurrupan yuṯany djamarrkuḻiny’.Dhuwal Ganybuw napurr ga marŋgikum yuṯany djamarrkuḻin’y napurr dhu marrtji ḻuku ŋupan bala walalany, nhaltjarr walal gan ŋaḻapaḻmirr mala marrtjin.



The fish traps of Ŋayawili are a place where we pass on the knowledge of those who have been before to a younger generation to walk in the footsteps of the ancestors. At the fish traps we are showing the young people how to see things that cannot easily be seen with the eyes.


Ga dhuwal ganybu napurr ga milkum ga maŋgikum djamarrkuḻi’wal nhänharaw dhiyak, yurr bäyŋun nhe ga nhämany nhä ga ŋunhi ŋorra ŋunhiyi, balany mala yan ḻurrkun nha ŋunhi nhe ga marŋgithirra walalaŋgala. Ŋunhiwurr mala yan ŋunhi walal ŋäkul ga nhäŋal walalaŋkuŋ ŋunhi walal bäyŋun bilin räkunynha mala.



We are sharing the language of caring for kin and country, the words of cultural, linguistic and biological diversity. This is the language necessary to follow in the footsteps of the ancestors and care for each other and our country.


Dhuwandja ŋunhi marŋgikunharaw dhiyak guyaw ganybuw dhuwal Ŋayawiliŋur dhuwandja dhukarr marŋgikunharaw nhaltjan limurr dhu marŋgikum limurruŋ djamarrkuḻiny’ walal dhu nhäma nhä ga ŋorra ŋunhi nhe ga bäyŋu nhäma nhokal mel-yu ga ŋäma dhiyaŋ dhukarryu nhe marrtji dhu ŋuthanmaram nhuŋuwuy walŋa ga dhiyak wäŋaw nhinanharaw ga djämaw. Dhuwandja ŋunhi dhukarrnydja nhe dhu ŋuthanmaramany dhuwandja maŋgikuharaw dhiyak wäŋaw ŋunhi walal gurrupar limurruŋgal. Dhuwandja ŋunhi dhukarrnydja limurr dhu nhina ŋunhiliyi mägayaŋur dhiyal wäŋaŋur ŋunhi walal gurrupar limurruŋgal ŋaḻapaḻmirriy mala, dhiyak wäŋaw djäkaw limurruŋgalaŋaw.



This is the knowledge of the fish traps of Ŋayawili, this is the way that we teach our children to see what is there, and importantly to understand what you cannot see with your eyes. This is the way we make a place for our kin to live in harmony with the environment our ancestors made for us.


Dhuwandja ŋunhi marŋgikunharaw dhiyak guyaw ganybuw dhuwal Ŋayawiliŋur dhuwandja dhukarr maŋjgikunharaw nhaltjan limurr dhu marŋgikum limurruŋ djamarrkuḻin’y walal dhu nhäma nhä ga ŋorra ŋunhi nhe ga bäyŋu nhäma nhokal mel-yu ga ŋäma dhiyaŋ dhukarryu nhe marrtji dhu ŋuthanmaram nhuŋuwuy walŋa ga dhiyak wäŋaw nhinanharaw ga djämaw. Dhuwandja ŋunhi dhukarrnydja nhe dhu ŋuthanmaramany dhuwandja maŋgikuharaw dhiyak wäŋaw ŋunhi walal gurrupar limurruŋgal. Dhuwanadja ŋunhi dhukarrnydja limurr dhu nhina ŋunhiliyi mägayaŋur dhiyal wäŋaŋur ŋunhi walal gurrupar limurruŋgal ŋaḻapalmirriy mala, dhiyak wäŋaw djäkaw limurruŋgalaŋaw.



David Hancock https://www.davidhancockphoto.com.au/

Therese Ritchie http://thereseritchie.com/art.com/home.html

Angie Gray https://angiefrejagray.wixsite.com/mysite







Baymarrwaŋa; Poetry in Language, the ‘Voice of the Land’ and Sea….


The poetry of place is carried on the wind, in whispers in the voice of the ancestors. Wangurri elder Buthimaŋ tells us in Dhaŋu that;

Djamarrkui nhunu ŋarru marŋgithiyi watawu ga waluwu ga gapu garmak dhaŋukay ga dhuŋgarra wo dhaŋgayŋa gurruwirriyun ŋirrimaŋa dhaŋun dharrawa guyam ga maypalma.

Children you must learn to listen to the wind, the wind will tell you the story of the maypal.

Yaka nhunu ŋarru mayam dhaŋu dhäruk banha yaka ŋoya djinal ŋayiŋa.

You can’t take language away, language is inside.

Buthimaŋ Dhurrkay (Dhaŋukay). [1]


A beautiful new book edited by Katherine Ainger has arrived. The book is a marvellous work of celebration.  ‘AUSTRALIA – THE VATICAN MUSEUMS INDIGENOUS COLLECTION. EDIZIONI MUSIE VATICANI. Aboriginal Studies Press.[2]

In explaining the premise for the book she quotes Mick Dodson, thus ‘Professor Mick Dodson, barrister, advocate and Yawuru man said:

To understand our law, our culture and our relationship to the physical and spiritual world, you must begin with the land. Everything about Aboriginal society is inextricably woven with, and connected to, the land. 


Tony Swain ‘challenges the rationalist orientation of trying to understand Aboriginal traditions by analysing beliefs, doctrines and philosophies. These, he suggests, are secondary things. Aboriginal people, on the other hand, teach using direct experience of the senses: by showing people how to see, hear and feel Dreamings in their lands.’

The chapter entitled ‘Voice of the Land’ brings to light Baymarrwaŋa’s determination to reproduce the authority and complexity of knowledge of country for the children, of the ‘almost invisible linkages of knowledge in language that keep biological, linguistic and cultural diversity vibrant’.

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The Italian Anthropologist Tommaso Piva comments:
‘This work is testament to truth, trust and care in engagement, a collaboration of profound love, hope and feeling in country.’
‘Questo lavoro è una testimonianza della cura e dell’impegno reciproco,un’ espressione di autentico amore, speranza e sentimento verso la propria terra.’



The Book emphasises the Importance of Language.

‘The Yan-nhaŋu language is a sign of belonging, a spring of knowledge, and a source of ancestral connection to land and sea Country. The ocean is focal for the Yan-nhaŋu both as a physical space and as a mental map. It is inscribed with cosmic meaning. In its currents, colours and sounds are the manifestation of ancestral powers at work beneath its surface. A place of memories and the site of engagements, it is as fundamental to Yan-nhaŋu identity as their language. Yan-nhaŋu people say. ‘We are kin to the sea’ and ‘We care for him/her and she/he keeps us alive’. Here in the Yan-nhaŋu language can be seen the complementary relations, the harmonisation of opposites underlying a holistic worldview. The names and places and people, and the everyday words of the language reflect the notion of relatedness and the indissoluble connection of people to their sea Country.’


  1. Piva again;

‘È notevole per molto altro ancora sebbene, principalmente, sia pura poesia del cuore.’

‘It is remarkable for so much else, but in this it is true poetry of the heart.’


[1] Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa : Shellfish Meaning and Place. A Yolŋu Bilingual Identification Guide to Shellfish of North East Arnhem Land 2016, 273 pages: colour illustrations, colour maps; 21 cm

[2] Australia the Vatican Museums Indigenous Collection. 2017. Edizioni Musie Vaticani. Aboriginal Studies Press. Asia Pacific Offset LtD. ISBN 978-88-8271-411-6

The last of the last Yan-nhangu Atlas’

Jaypeg_40 Yan-nhangu AtlasThe last Yan-nhangu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands has been distributed to the Australian Studies Centre in the University of Köln.


The university kindly offered me a research and teaching role as a partner of the Australian Studies Centre at the University of Köln, at which time I had the opportunity to visit some beautiful places in Germany.  (http://centreforaustralianstudies.org/people/partners/).My father is from Germany.

I thank the GBS (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen) that supported my work in Yolngu Linguistics. GBS (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen) organisation is dedicated to saving endangered languages. In December 2017 they celebrated their twenty five year anniversary.[GBS] GBS Mitgliederversammlung am 18.11. in Berlin, 14-18 Uhr – 20 Jahre GBS! The Yan-nhangu atlas was one of the four projects they celebrated. Polymath Professor Marie Carla D. Adone Ph.d Head of Applied Linguistics (English Department) and Co-Director of Centre of Australian Studies at the University of Cologne presented the Atlas on my behalf.


She reports resounding international recognition of Baymarrwangga’s project. Comments included “Dieses höchst beeindruckende ethnologische Werk stellt einen der Höhepunkte der Forschung an Indigenen Sprachen Australiens dar, (This ethnolinguistic masterpiece is one of the high points of Australian indigenous language research ) Zusammen haben Dr. James und Frau Baymarrwangga dazu beigetragen, nicht nur eine Sprache, sondern auch die damit verknüpfte kulturelle Welt zu retten. Dieses Werk ist ein mutiger und beharrlicher Ausdruck menschlichen Überlebenswillens”. (Together, these two have saved a world in a language, a tribute to the human spirit of survival, a land mark of courage and perseverance.) and kindly, “James ist ein äußerst bemerkenswerter Anthropologe und Ethnograph.” (This is one of the greats of ethnography)

Generally, there is a much greater awareness of, and sensitivity to, issues arising from colonial settler interaction with Australian Indigenous people, in Germany, than there is in Australia. Not only students but people on the streets are refreshingly interested in and concerned with, what is happening in Australia. Consequently, there was standing room only at public lectures and informal talks about this work in Germany.


There is strong agreement that we must delink the epistemological imperialism of setter ideologies in Australian colonial state policies for indigenous people. Particularly in regard to access, content and delivery of ‘services policy’ in justice, policing, schools, language, land rights, health and housing. Thank you, to all those who gave so generously to support one wonderful old lady’s dream of saving her language for her children and children’s children. It has brought joy to serve such an idea.


Thank you

Crocodile Islands Draft IPA 2017. No Small Beer.

On a celebratory note, as we bring in the new year let us celebrate the long awaited “The Crocodile Islands Draft  IPA  2017 – a heady blend of local cultures and more cosmopolitan strains pitched in Yan-nhaŋu some 20 years ago in Big Boss and Bentley’s multilingual Murruŋga Island brewery”

A forward looking copy of the Crocodile Islands Rangers Mariŋa Indigenous Protected Area Draft Plan of Management: 2017-2022 reminds us, at this transitional time, to remember how we got here. Those who forget the past are bound to relive it.  Or as Big Boss was want to say “Limalanha gurrku mana maŋutjiguma limalama djäma märr ḏilak yanama dhuyugu Yolŋulu gurruku mana nhäma marŋgiyirri limalagara. Bilabilagumunu ŋanapuluma nhaŋ’kumunu dhäŋuny bulthuna nhapiyana mananha limalama ḏilak miṯṯji nyenanha baman’ŋatjili”. We follow the way of the ancestors, the way of those who come before.


The Crocodile Islands Draft IPA is a worthy classic of culture and power nurtured in the way of the Dao-der-Jiŋ: Dao- strength, power, and integrity, virtue: Jiŋ -way, path, custom, manner.

The way that can be spoken is not the constant way,

The name that can be named is not the constant name,

The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth,

The named was the mother of the myriad things,

Hence always rid yourself of desire to know its secrets,

But always have desire in order to observe its manifestations.

I wrote the following introduction for the ‘Crocodile Islands Rangers Mariŋa Indigenous Protected Area Draft Plan of Management: 2017-2022 to celebrate the virtue and insight of Big Boss, [1] leader of Mariŋa, [2] for alas, most of those now working on her projects never met her, let alone speak her language or visited the secret places of the islands.

Laurie Baymarrwaŋa (1917-2014) [3] was a humble and inspirational leader.[4] She lived to celebrate many triumphs including creating a homeland and a bilingual school,[5] saving her language,[6] gaining recognition as the ‘Traditional Owner’ over her country,[7] winning the 2012 Senior Australian of the Year award [8] and creating the Crocodile Islands Initiative (CII) incorporating the Crocodile Islands Ranger (CIR) Program junior rangers program[9]and Turtle Sanctuary[10] to name a few. Baymarrwaŋa spent a lifetime promoting the intergenerational transmission of local language and knowledge to sustain authentic livelihoods and links to homelands unique to this remote part of Australia’s marine estate:[11]

Nhaŋu dhaŋuny yuwalkthana Yolŋu miṯṯji marŋgimana dhana mayali’ mana dhaŋuny mana limalama ganatjirri maramba barrathalayuma gurrku mana waŋgalaŋga.

‘We will pass on the stories (wisdom) of our sea country for the new generation to make it strong.’  Laurie Baymarrwaŋa, 1999.[12]


In 2003, after ten years of cultural mapping, detailed recording over five hundred previously undocumented sites in the sea and on the islands and a wealth of associated Yan-nhaŋu language and local knowledge, we began the Crocodile Islands Initiative (CII).[13]

This family of projects gave life to the Crocodile Islands Rangers (CIR) and Junior Rangers programs promoting life-long language learning and authentic livelihoods on country.[14] The first rangers worked as volunteers. In 2003, she began a plan for the nascent ranger program to feed local children with fish, ‘Lima gurrku guya riya-gunhanyini ŋalimalamagu yitjiwala gurruṯuwaygu : We will give our kids fish (Baymarrwaŋa 2002).[15]

In 2011 she was awarded the ‘NT Research and Innovation Awards Special Commendation’ celebrating her ‘outstanding and inspiring lifetime contribution.’[16]After receiving recognition as the senior Maḻarra traditional owner of her father’s estate at Galiwin’ku she was finally able to fund the Crocodile Islands Rangers program she had been denied for twenty years.[17]

It is instructive then, given the nature of bureaucratic churn and the superficiality of administrative knowledge, to taste something of the precursors to the CIR IPA  2017-2022.

In 1993 we began to map the sites of the seas and Crocodile Islands for posterity and the cultural future of her children’s children. Unbeknownst and unencumbered by wider interests and of those living outside of Murruŋga, we began to distil a picture of place legible to a wider society, unrecognisant and illiterate in Yan-nhaŋu, and of the near invisible ancestral links to country germinating from countless generations of coexistence with the sea.  By 1995 we had recorded some five hundred sites in the seas and islands. BBEN

In 1996 we worked to make the law of the ancestors clear in the language of the ancestors. Big boss says “ bäyŋugurubu Yolŋulu yana mananha nhäna mananha barŋaranha yana mananha napiyana mananha yindimirribulu nyenanha limalama baman’ ŋatjili. In short we keep to the law.

In 1999 we envisaged the idea of a (CII) Crocodile Islands Initiative, (CIR) Crocodile Islands Ranger Program and Junior Ranger Program to operationalise investment in land and sea country for future generations. In 2003, through our translation of Yan-nhaŋu custom and the language of the islands we made available to others in Yolŋu Matha and English the fantastic inheritance of a rich and vibrant ritual, linguistic and ecological knowledge, inextricably linked to ancestral sites of the islands and the surrounding seas – ‘the reward of generations of intimate coexistence with the marine environment’.  Baymarrwaŋa was compelled by the enormity of this task to undertake the initiative for the protection and nurturance of this unique and endangered inheritance, for all future Australians.

bentley translates fish murrungga

In 2004 we translated for the (NAMBS) North Australia Marine Biodiversity Survey the first inquiry into the flora and fauna of inshore waters of north Australia since Mathew Flinders in 1803. This survey found the pristine environments around the Crocodile Islands of national and international significance but more importantly recognised the crucial role of indigenous knowledge and management of marine biodiversity in the seagrass habitats and associated flora and fauna of inshore waters. The Survey greatly improved scientific understanding across the Top End coast, as well as establishing a foundation for future collaborative work between Yan-nhaŋu people, scientists and Governments. We reiterated that ownership, use and practice of traditional knowledge in its local context must be acknowledged as a foundation for equitable partnerships and that indigenous knowledge is inescapably linked to local language and culture.[18]

Big boss ranger stories

In November 2009 the Biodiversity Conservation Unit of the NT Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport (NRETAS) was engaged to look at the biodiversity conservation values of the Crocodile Islands not yet visited by scientists. Whilst researchers had previously found that there had been a significant decline in small mammal populations on the mainland of northern Australia, the Crocodile Islands were found to provide an important refuge for wildlife without some of the major threats so extensive elsewhere (such as cane toad, cat, pig and frequent fire) on the mainland.[19]

The CIR vision is about ensuring positive diversity for the children of the islands, the diversity that underlies the future of healthy socio-cultural and linguistic, ecological, and economic systems all around the world. Today, 2017, the CIR reflects the strategic framework we designed to deliver efficient and cost effective land and sea management on indigenous lands and, through a multiplier effects, delivers substantial economic, educational and cultural benefits more broadly, to Miliŋimbi people and surrounding Yolŋu communities, and to an awakening wider world. Underlying our intellectual and physical investment in the CIR and associated projects was a vision, a vision with unshakable commitment to Yan-nhaŋu concerns, and those of local kin, and more broadly local issues in sync with global environmental issues.


cir badge

Baymarrwaŋa and I designed this badge to display a central idea.  We made it to represent the vision to enhance the fecundity of local and wider marine resources. The Mariŋa Ocean alludes to the waters of the Arafura sea, linked in ceremonial alliance by Dhuwa and Yirritja Yan-nhaŋu speaking bäpurru or clans.[20] The barramundi (ratjuk) is a symbol of the Yirritja sea (ganatjirri dhulway) and the barracuda (larratjatja) embodies the Dhuwa waters of (ganatjirri maramba). Together they provide a metaphor for the ritual care and re-fecundification of turtle and marine resources.[21]

Loggerhead at Waijtjpirr3.0.17 lawrence Nadjallar

‘Drink deep draughts O the well of knowledge, for a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’-Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744), or more poignantly, Francis Bacon’s essay: Of Atheism, 1601 “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”  – pre-agrarian animism, love for the spirits of country,  fruitfulness and prosperity, welcome fecundity, welcome open mindedness, welcome 2018. Thanks to all those who follow this inspirational dream. A new era begins….IPA

Happy 2018 xox


[1] James, B. 2003a. Report for the Northern Land Council on Maḻarra, Gamalaŋga and Wanguri Bäpurru of Milingimbi and Crocodile Islands. Anthropology Section, Land Information Resource. Restricted. Darwin. N.T.

[2] Six Yan-nhaŋu clans or bäpurru of two moieties, three Dhuwa bäpurru[2]—Gamalaŋga, Maḻarra and Gurryindi[2]—and the three Yirritja bäpurru —Walamaŋu, Biṉḏarra and Ŋurruwulu— are known as, and refer to themselves as, Märiŋa, people of the sea (James 2003, 2009, 2014). Märiŋa (Maringa) refers to a shared ceremonial connection by these bäpurru with the sea.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurie_Baymarrwangga

[4] Baymarrwaŋa, L, and B, James. 2014. Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands. Tien wah press, Singapore & Sydney Australia. p 576

[5] Posthumous award of the United Nations Peace Prize for Indigenous Film. 2015. ‘Big Boss Last Leader of the Crocodile Islands: Buŋgawa bathala rom ḏäl ga rälpa ḏumurru’. Year: 2015. NITV; Runtime: 53 min, Directed By: Paul Sinclair, Produced By: Jade Sinclair Matt Dwyer, Language: Yan-nhangu language, English subtitles

[6] James. B., Baymarrwaŋa, L., Gularrbaŋg,R., Darga, M., Nyambal, R., Nyŋunyuŋu 2, M. 2003. Yan-nhaŋu Dictionary. Milingimbi, CEC Literature Production Centre Northern Territory University press. Darwin. N.T.

[7] James, B. 2006b. Report for the Northern Land Council, Background, Constitution and Articulation of Traditional Land Ownership for the Town Area of Galiwin’ku from Dhambalaŋur to Dayirri Ck.

[8]  https://www.nailsma.org.au/laurie-baymarrwangga-senior-australian-year-2012.html

[9] James, B. 2010c. Crocodile Islands Rangers Prospectus Report on prospects for upscaling Ranger Program for Yan-nhangu Maringa language groups and sea country. Murrungga Island. Unpublished. N.T.

[10] James, B. 2005a. Regional Activity Plan RAP Dugong and Marine Turtle – Maringa and Gulalay Yan-nhangu speaking people, Crocodile Islands, North Coast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory  NAILSMA Ltd. C.D.U. Darwin. N.T.

[11] Aigner, K (editor), 2017.  Australia: the Vatican Museums collection.  CittaÌ del Vaticano : Edizioni Musei Vaticani Exhibition Vatican City Vatican Museums Ethnological Collection. Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

[12] Baymarrwaŋa, L, and B, James. 2014. Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands. Tien wah press, Singapore & Sydney Australia.

[13] http://www.savanna.org.au/nailsma/projects/downloads/INNOVATION-AWARDS-BAYMARRWANGA CI-letterhead-11-11.pdf

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurie_Baymarrwangga

[15] NAIDOC WEEK 2017 Poster ‘Our Languages Matter ‘ Laurie Baymarrwaŋa and Bentley James – a language partnership’ Batchelor National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee press. Canberra. ACT.

[16] NT Research and Innovation Awards.http://www.savanna.org.au/nailsma/projects/downloads/INNOVATION-AWARDS-BAYMARRWANGA-CI-letterhead-11-11.pdf, http://www.savanna.org.au/nailsma/projects/downloads/ON-CAMPUS-ANU-RECOGNITION.pdf

[17] ‘Big Boss.’ Year: 2012 Ronin Films, Runtime: 25 min, Directed By: Paul Sinclair, Produced By: Tom Zubrycki, Language: Yan-nhangu language, English subtitles.

[18]2007 North Australian Marine Biodiversity Survey-interactions between indigenous knowledge and western science (2007)

[19] Conservation significance in the Castlereagh Bay and associated islands (NRETAS 2009) and Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan and NT Regional Investment Strategy (2006).

[20] The moieties Dhuwa and Yirritja are two halves of an ideational system that divides the world into two categories fundamentally classifying every aspect of the Yolŋu universe. Everything is either one or the other, so that every aspect of the physical and nomenal world, person or animal is Dhuwa or Yirritja, and is essentially/spiritually associated with a particular Dhuwa or a Yirritja bäpurru (clan).

[21] The cycle of water provides a powerful metaphor for understanding a Yolŋu world view. A view linking all aspects of natural diversity into a network of connectedness, creating an environment populated with social and ecological relations. This network of human and biological interconnectedness is articulated through the idiom of kinship and as such implies obligations for the care of the lands and seas and waters. The underlying patterns of ancestral waters form a flowing system, a geography of human and environmental relations reflecting the distribution of clans or bäpurru understood by a generation of people that lived before the coming of the Miliŋimbi mission and the children of predominantly eastern bäpurru groups that followed.

Little Red Book – Galiwin’ku


Shepherdson2 - Copy

With much thanx, to the wonderful people of Galiwin’ku and its surrounding homelands.




Dr. Bentley James in full flight, presenting his latest publication to the Students, Staff and Community of Milingimbi School. By James Dodd. Homelands teacher Milingimbi C.E.C 2017

Hi there, back again in Milingimbi for the opening of the new Literacy Production Centre.  Teacher Linguist Jenny says ‘As one of the first 5 Northern Territory communities to offer a bilingual programme in the 1970s it was with great joy that we celebrated at last having a purpose built space, a legacy of Cyclone Lam’ (Robbins. J. Yurruwi School LPC Opening 1.6.2017)

On a lighter note, thanking children, dignitaries, important actors past and present, and the ancestors, I launched into an animated pasquinade about the book with much fire and brimstone. We split our sides laughing … it was short, a happy moment quickly forgotten, if you wish you may read the review by homelands teachers James Dodd below…but be warned its rich… however, the book remains.

I have been handing out the book in big communities like Milingimbi but also in the homelands.

As you know, homelands on country, in the ever present ancestral geography, are peopled by kin- in relationships with country that enhance the reproduction of local knowledge, language, identity and local power.

Michelle Barraṯawuy, (Octogenarian and Baymarrwaŋa’s granddaughter) is taking bilingual education to her project on country, teaching kids about maypal, while collecting them, and referencing – Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place.[i]  On distant Murrungga Island she is using the book as a tool to teach kids to read, while she takes kids to the sea – passing on local knowledge, science, and learning how to obtain nutritious food in healthy surroundings.

Barraṯawuy observes, ‘djäma limurr dhu marr ga limurr dhu guyaŋa rom ga dhäwu maypalwalaŋuwuy. We must work to remember the law and stories of the shellfish’.[ii]

At Gäwa, senior man Dhawa, at his homeland at the northern tip of Galiwin’ku tells us; Ŋurruṉaŋgal ŋätjil djanal banha maypalyu bili bilanyamiyu waluyu ḻuŋgurrrmayu: the north wind tells of the ancestors and the time for maypal in the Warramiri Language.[iii] A practical expression of kinship the intergenerational transfer of ‘locality specific’ ancestral knowledge, language and identity, he and others on homelands are working to reinvigorate important knowledge about country, food and identity around Yolŋu tradition.

Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place incorporates seven languages from across North East Arnhem Land.  We are giving this book to schools and homelands for free. This is a gift of intergenerational generosity in line with the obligation to help a new generation ‘walk in the footsteps of the ancestors’[iv].

Attachment One

Review of the Milingimbi LPC hand out- Dodd, James. Homelands Teacher.

Yurruwi School Milingimbi, Crocodile islands was treated to a visit from Australian Anthropological Royalty last week!

With gathering national fame, Bentley James made his way on stage at the grand opening of the school’s new Learning Publication Centre. Dr. James is our new Donald Thompson! (That pioneering and celebrated anthropologist to the top end in the 30’s)……  In a hundred years or so, future Australians will look back with gratitude for the twenty years Dr. James tirelessly spent documenting the ancient and dying Yan-nhangu language of the Crocodile islands and preserving its precious record.  There are no other Australians alive, quite like him. Certainly no other Balanda could even dream to share his window of understanding.

Each time I have had the pleasure to witness Dr. James make a public address I have seen the anticipation build in the audience of Yolngu, staff, students and community members. They know they are in for a euphoric celebration. They are to be treated to a speech in their own language delivered by a White man but which they know will entertain and connect with them completely.

Bentley did not disappoint. Within seconds, the audience was in stitches. An energy exploded from the crowd and cocooned the outdoor space connecting and unifying everyone. We all smiled. We all felt excited whether we understood Yolngu Matha or not. What a treat it was for the children to be entertained by such a dynamic voice in their native tongue. But what a shame job it was for all the monolinguist Balanda who sat floundering in their lack of comprehension.

Bentley spoke to us about the ancestors, about the link between them, us and those yet to be born. He talked about his relationship with Baymarwanga, The Big Boss of the Crocodile islands and of his 20 year journey with her mapping the country and learning her language. He told the students the nickname she gave him and the students collapsed with laughter. He reminded them of the Big Blue Book, the Atlas and Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands which he and Big Boss had made for them. And at last he presented his new publication, the Golden Leafed Red Hardback outlining Maypal, the shellfish of the Crocodile Islands

Bentley held us all-spellbound but when he left the stage it was like a bridge fell down.

A high vibrational field emanates from Bentley when you walk with him through the community. He knows and jokes with everyone. He has mastered one of our precious dying languages completely and has become as one with the land and sea from which that language was born. Bentley is a megaphone of the message that all Australians can share the link with the Dreamtime. That we are obliged to open our hearts. That we are all united by the pleasure felt beneath a moonlit starry night spent sitting by the fire and telling our stories. The Australian culture and language evolves as it always has, dictated by the land and the sea, unifying us, whether we are black or white and from a time long before 1788.


[i] James, B. North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA) (2016) Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place. A Yolŋu Bilingual Identification Guide to Shellfish of North East Arnhem Land. NAILSMA Ltd.

[ii] ibid p2

[iii] ibid p10

[iv] Baymarrwaŋa, L., James, B,. (2014) ‘Yan-nhaŋu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands.’ The Tien-Wah press, Singapore & Sydney Australia.


Thankyou Ramingining School for the fabulous hand out !!!



NAIDOC WEEK – Language Champions; thankyou from Baymarrwaŋa & Bentley

Our Languages Matter !!! Thank you to the people at NAIDOC;


‘So greatful for this award, thank you, let me say that, the fight to save our precious language heritage goes on’. and that we have alwasy felt that ‘In the land where ‘closing the gap‘ is short hand for assimilation, and assimilation means extinction, we understand Ted Strehlow to be on the right track’ ;

“Above all, let us permit native children to keep their own languages, -those beautiful and expressive tongues, rich in true Australian imagery, charged with poetry and with love for all that is great, ancient and eternal in the continent. There is no need to fear that their own languages will interfere with the learning of English as the common medium of expression for all Australians. In most areas of Australia the natives have been bilingual, probably from time immemorial. Today white Australians are among the few remaining civilized people who still think that knowledge of one language is the normal limit of linguistic achievement.”

T.G.H Strelow, 1958.