Shellfish, Meaning & Place


Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place, A Yolŋu Bilingual Identification Guide to Shellfish of North East Arnhem Land celebrates the insights and differences of two knowledge systems, incorporating seven Yolŋu languages, English and Latin names, and with exquisite photography it reveals hundreds of beautiful shellfish of the northern coastline. The wise say we must not forget the meaning and place of maypal in our words, in the songs of place and the spirit of land and sea.

Billi yaka limurr dhu moma dhäwu ŋaraka ga mayali’ maypalgu bamanpuy ga dhärruk ŋurruŋaŋgalgu. Walu ga wata wapurrar ŋayi manymak maypalgu ga warray wirripu walu dhu ga wata wutthu’wutthun maypal ga binydjitjthirr ŋayi dhu. Dhiyaŋ bala ga yuṯa miyalkthu ga ḏirrimuw walal dhu ga moma ŋaraka ga mayali’ maypalgu, ga bayŋu walal gi guyaŋi dhäwu ga rom maypalgu.

This is a story for the children. This is a story about shellfish and the places that they live.

thomson Childre from Maypal

TPH 1277. Children’s buŋgul at Ŋarawundhu, Miliŋimbi. D. F. Thomson. Courtesy of the Thomson family and Museum Victoria. Page 19 Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place.

Dhuwal dhäwu djamarrkuḻiw ŋayi dhu marŋgithirr maypalgu nhä ŋayinytja maypal ga ŋorra limurruŋgu ga bulu dhäwu dhu ḻakarram wanha wäŋaw walalaŋgu maypalgu dhika djuḏum’ŋur, raŋiŋur ga ḻarrthaŋur wäŋa walalaŋgu. Dhuwal djorra djamarrkuḻiw matha ga yäku wirripu matha ga ŋorra marr ga walal dhu marŋgithirr nhä yaku ŋayi maypal ga ŋorra ga yaku mala ga dharrawa wirripu mathakurr limurruŋgu ga mayali’ ga wirripu dhärruk ga ŋorra. Manymak marŋgithirr walal dhu ga maypalgu romtja ga mayali’ ga djäka wäŋaw ga ŋuthan marrtji manymakthirri. Billi yaka limurr dhu moma dhäwu bamanpuy ga dhärruk ŋurruŋaŋgalgu.

This beautifully illustrated, scientifically precise, full colour reference contextualizes data about shellfish and environment illuminating the intimate links of Yolŋu knowledge and ancestral connection to sea country and its delicate living abundance. Striking Yolŋu poetry from the old and wise, and those who have gone before, accompany maps and illustrations that resonate with the spiritual dimension of this magical volume. In its words are worlds. Will Stubbs of Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Arts of Yirrkala tells us ‘It has the weight and feel of a prayer book. And in a way it is. It is a reverence … 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’[1]

Djalu Gurruwiwi, Yolŋu elder[2]

 “As the seasons change we think of the old people, the ancestors, we think of gathering maypal.”

In 1993 I was doing a stopover at Maṯamaṯa and Rurruwuy homelands as a visiting teacher. At that time Doris Yethun Burarrwaŋa was the outstations teacher at Maṯamaṯa. Yapa (sister) was committed to helping children know their kin, country and language. (familiar plaint). We shared a strong desire to help the next generation ready themselves for another wave of relentless state-imposed assimilation. She said she wanted to prepare them to try and keep the homelands and its language. Yet to come was the bitter ‘Intervention’, ‘better futures’, ‘growth towns’ and still more imperial horrors rebadged ‘help’, the quiet strangulation of homelands[3] and a new stolen generation taking children as ‘responsibility to protect’[4]. We found solace among the maypal.NANGURADoris and her family taught me of the joy of this country out hunting for maypal. There, off the rocks of Gikal, we found the legendary Giant Black-Lipped Rock oysters(ṉamura), eaten raw (ŋäṉarr) or lightly roasted in their shells (ḻuku), the ‘nectar’, the ‘Golden Fleece’, how rare, how sweet it is. It was this early exposure to the beauty of shell fish that inspired a further twenty years of investigation on the western islands.

Handing out Maypal.

Up here in the North of Australia people share maypal. We have been sharing the story of Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place across North East Arnhem Land. With support from NAILSMA we have been giving this book out to schools and homelands for free. The spirit of this book is in the gift of those who have gone before, in the intergenerational obligation to help the young ‘walk in the footsteps of the ancestors’, a gift of so many ancestral journeys. Each pathway a different way, each country a different country, a different language. Accordingly, in making this book for such a broadly differentiated linguistic audience, so many different identities, sixty or more bäpurru ‘clans’, in very different places, for teachers and researchers, we had to utilise lot of different names from a lot of different languages.ShellFishCommunityMap_HI_RES_300_DPI_07052016 - Copy.tifMap of North East Arnhem Land homelands, communities and sites. Page 6-7 Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place.

There are some very important differences between the five major ex-mission communities [growth towns] in North East Arnhem Land. Yirrkala, Gapuwiyak, Galiwin’ku, Ramingining and Milingimbi, not to mention the spiritual birthplaces (yirralka) of their populations from a dwindling number of homelands.[5] Each of these ex-mission ‘communities’ are made up of very distinctive amalgams of families, ‘totemic heaps’, kinship complexes, networks, nodal individuals, interest groups, service providers and visitors. Each has been informed and shaped by different contact histories, geographic settings and community politics. Moreover, their relative position within a complex pre-existing ancestral geography entail distinctive metaphysical predispositions within the Yolŋu universe. One size cannot fit all. From among the diversity of these multiple choices we searched for a title for the Maypal Book. This book’s name, Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place, talks to the importance of place and its different yet connected meanings to Yolŋu people across diverse histories, stories, ages, backgrounds and settings.

Organisation of the text reflects the significance of difference.

Lists of Yolŋu ecological communities indicate the place, home or wäŋa where particular maypal live and may be found. A key to identification reveals the many Yolŋu names for maypal, also alternative scientific (Linnaean) identifications that have been recorded in the past, as these may still have some currency for ongoing research, and so are linked to a robust list of sources. The Yolŋu moiety; Dhuwa or Yirritja, of maypal is recorded and importantly – the most commonly used eastern and western regional Yolŋu names currently used by Yolŋu, appear as headwords. This means that the names most familiar in the East-Mewatj region, and those more familiar in the West-Gatjirk region, are to be found with their own separate headwords and recorded in bilingual alphabetical order.Yirrkala (2)

Orthography, Spelling and Difference.

Bilingual alphabetical order a ä b d ḏ dh dj e g i k l ḻ m n ṉ nh ny ŋ o p r rr t ṯ th tj u w y ’

Recognition of the ritual and religious significance of geo-linguistic similarities and differences is a necessary conceptual precondition for a book like this. Additionally, it is fruitful to recognise this knowledge has been passed on by word of mouth for a thousand generations. That’s why we found it challenging to imagine an appropriate design for this priceless repository of knowledge, let alone light upon a standardised mode, convention and language of representation. Less challenging and more flexible, in terms of spelling at least, was the choice of orthography. We chose spelling rules and orthography as applied to Yolŋu languages throughout north-east Arnhem Land. While based on the order of the English alphabet the Yolŋu bilingual alphabetical order keeps the distinctive sounds in Yolŋu languages grouped together.GAWA2

The Importance of Cultural Difference

Finely calibrated linguistic difference is a key signifier of distinctive ancestral inheritances vital to discriminating local identities. For this reason, the spelling of names is of paramount consequence. However, a generous number of variations of spelling was found for each of the many elicitations of Yolŋu names for shellfish over the years. Well over a thousand different names were uncovered with most having at least two or three prospective spellings. In the end, those that could be found in David Zorc’s 1986 Yolŋu Matha Dictionary became the final spelling for all those shellfish names with unresolved or indeterminate spelling.

While travelling around the homelands gathering, naming and recording shellfish varieties and names there was a great sadness about the lack of, and growing pressures from outside and within, to dampen opportunities for children to learn the language of country. Loss of an older generation, fewer visits to country, unfamiliarity with sites, names and ceremonies, lack of exposure to seasonal phenomena, ripening of fruits and return of species and the vicissitudes of modern life all-over convinced us to search for old names and synonyms for maypal. This is why we have complemented the maypal text with bäpurru specific synonymous and alternate names or guruŋay dhäruk, for all the different shellfish species we found.RAMOThis strategy of supplementing Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa with guruŋay dhäruk; old or high language, has multiple benefits in diversity, interest and its potential to enhance children’s knowledge of their linguistic heritage. Prompted by elders to restore guruŋay dhäruk, we have inserted a ‘richer more intellectually stimulating lexicon’ into the maypal story to enrich children’s education. Reintroduction of uncommon and interesting synonyms for key words in the text helps emphasise the richness of Yolŋu language and familiarises a new generation with an endangered lexicon, highlighting wider linguistic and ecological relationships more broadly.55Openly the Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place project is about bilingual approaches to local knowledge and science around shellfish. It’s also about the intergenerational transfer of ancestral knowledge with an inclusive vision for a cultural future.[6] Enormous and seemingly unstoppable state sponsored pressures continue to deny homelands residence, fully funded bilingual education, full two-way learning and opportunities for intergenerational transmission and in so bequeathing an overwhelming, and non-accidental, burden on the kids of tomorrow and Indigenous futures. The challenge of this future, where cultures with different world views exist in the same time and space, is creating a space where both can co-exist and positively engage with each other.[7]Shepherdson4Dozens of [closing] outstations scattered along the coast evidence an extensive pre-existing network of Yolŋu sacred sites, song lines and waŋarr journeys that constitute a magnificent endangered ancestral geography of global significance. This network of sites, linked by extended strings of kinship, are at the heart of managing and living on country. Life on country that nurtures mutually supporting bonds of kin, language and a priceless disappearing local environmental knowledge, values that have sustained the indigenous estate for eons. Irreplaceable knowledge of life we must cherish. Only homelands provide the opportunity for intergenerational transmission of this rare and distinctive local knowledge.IMG_3401From a more global perspective, the greater part, and last, of the less than one hundred indigenous Australian languages that still exist, are found in the N.T on the homelands. The homelands are being dismantled by governments of all colour. In North east Arnhem Land people typically spoke Yolŋu languages as first languages, but, their children are still denied classification as ESL (English as a Second Language) learners by the N.T education department. Remote education, what little is offered, and denied on homelands, has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the ESL status of forty percent of the school age cohort of the Northern Territory, to ‘save money’, much of which is syphoned off for urban schools. [8] ESL speakers, learning key concepts in their home languages first, may then translate these understandings into English, for non-Yolŋu literate visitors. Clearly it is not only Yolŋu children that are missing out.P1000147At its heart, Shellfish, Meaning & Place is about Yolŋu knowledge’s. Yolŋu ways of collaborating, exchanging and engaging brought the project to life. The process of cultural and linguistic translation of the north gains more import as we come to recognise our status as visitors. However ill prepared and temporary our engagement with this place we must not destroy it. The merry-go-round of teachers, nurses and service providers barely awake to the delicate subtlety of Indigenous relationships to country unintentionally tear at its edges. Engagement with Yolŋu ways of collaborating, exchanging and engaging together help balance unequal power so often vested in visitors, thereby creating potentials for genuine relations, links of emotional connection and indebtedness between people that enhance both ways of knowing.teachingYolŋu people must be allowed, supported and encouraged to continue to look after the 1597 km of mainland coast and a greater 1778 km of island shoreline, its names and its languages. The State cant do it, even if it wanted to, an none can give life to the dead.

Maypal, Winds and the Ancestors.

And then what of a more poetic emotional engagement with maypal and the deep past. The songs of maypal reverberating in the memory. In the names of the maypal are the names of the ancestors forming the linkages between heaven and earth, of a mystical spirit world hidden in bright moonlight on the sea. Here-in light, in the sea and maypal are the people’s names, the names of places. How do these names affect us, how do metaphysics and memory shape our psychic identities and our ways of remembering.DSCF4598It’s a new day and on the salty wind the sound of the sea whispers hints of memories of other lives buried deep within our being. In the sounds of the sea half heard names speak to those who have gone, speak to memories in the endless cycle of existence and non-existence. The Yan-nhaŋu people say, rathaŋu djiŋgamurryun. The sound of the sea on the voice of the wind. Rathaŋu djiŋgamurryun, can be heard from all over the islands, in it the supernatural sound signifying ancestral powers present in the everyday. This sound permeates the sleeping and waking world, the world of dreams and of the ancestors. The song of maypal.YIRRKALATo paraphrase Will, It is a prayer, a ritual incantation of names, of knowledge, and a prayer that they live on in the hearts and minds of the people for eternity. I have left the last word for Baymarrwaŋa;

Baymarrwaŋa (Yan-nhaŋu)-When we hear the wind-

Lima barrŋarra ŋalumaya wata dhuptana gurrku gayaŋa warguguyana mana limalanha ŋurruṉaŋgalbu.

Ŋalumaya wata dhuptana gurrku gayaŋa ŋalima yindi mitji gaṉtumunha guya luthana buḻaŋgitjirri.

Ŋalumaya wata dhuptana gurrku gayaŋa ganatjirri dhawal-ŋaruna djiŋgamurryun man’taṉ maypal buḻaŋgitjirri runu-runu nyena dhakaldhakalmurru.

Ŋalumaya wata dhuptana lima barrŋarra limalama ŋurruṉaŋgalbu yanakuŋu gurrku ran’tan-mindapuma bäyku dhawal-ŋaruna dhagarra dhulamunu Miliŋinbiŋa, Rapumaŋa, Murruŋga, Gurribali maypal man’taṉ runurunumurru nyena dhakal-dhakalmurru gurrgurramurru nhankum, bilamunu.

When we hear the wind blow our thoughts turn to our ancestors.

When the wind blows our fish traps fill with fish.

When the wind blows the distant sea brings shellfish to the islands.

When the wind blows we hear the ancestors of the distant sea creating shellfish for the islands, yielding the food of island people, amen.



Day, MM, (1993). Habermasian Ideal Speech: Dreaming the (Im)possible Dream, Accounting& Finance Working Paper 93/13, School of Accounting & Finance, University of Wollongong,

[1] Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda – Maypal- Shellfish of the Arafura Coast, Salon Indigenous Arts Projects in association with Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Arts Yirrkala, Outstations- Art from Art centres, Paul Jonstone Gallery, 1-31 August 2018 Outstation. Vickers St Parap, Darwin.

[2] Djalu Gurruwiwi, Yirriṉiṉba Dhurrkay, Galinini Yunupiŋu, Djarrka, p 12 in James, B. (2016) Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place. A Yolŋu Bilingual Identification Guide to Shellfish of North East Arnhem Land. NAILSMA Ltd. Tien Wha press, Sydney, Singapore.

[3] report revealed that successive governments under-spent on allocated Indigenous and remote disadvantage GST funding. The total of under-spending has now reached around $2.2 billion dollars. In 2014, we saw outrage when Tony Abbott and Warren Mundine announced nationwide Indigenous budget cuts of over $500 million. Now it has been revealed that $2 billion was stripped secretly from some of the most disadvantaged Aboriginal communities and there is nothing but silence.

[4] The Responsibility to Protect doctrine is the enabling principle that first obligates states and then the international community to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. (These crimes (assimilation) continue to be perpetrated on Australian Indigenous people and misrepresented by the Settler State).

[5] The plight of the homelands is another festering blister on the future of all Australians as their populations are discriminated against, denied citizen’s rights, adequate health care, housing, and education while the value of an intact indigenous estate is neglected, obfuscated and misrepresented. For Yolŋu children it is a glimpse of the diversity of opportunity to be denied them in their lives to come.

[6] NTG misleadingly and mendaciously labels NT indigenous ESL students EALD (English as an Additional Language or Dialect). A dishonest ploy to negate their full obligation under United Nations law to provide adequate first language education in the chosen location, homeland or community.

[7] A cultural future as described by Francis Kelly and Eric Michaels 1988 celebrates the embeddedness of people in country, law and languages and values thoughtful collaboration across knowledge systems.

[8] In the Australian context local knowledge is a decisive feature of Indigenous culture in the education realm (Schwab: 2003, 2015: Fogarty: 2015; Altman: 2010, 2015). Fully supported first language cultural competence valorises local knowledge giving confidence and psychological resilience to ESL learners in cross cultural and mainstream contexts. The practices of a [purposefully?] poorly equipped and critically underfunded remote education system obstruct bilingual and Two-Way learning, increasing local disadvantage (White: 2015; Piva: 2016; Nicolls: 2005). However, to be fair, remote education delivery to cattle stations is much more fully resourced.

Galiwin’ku ‘Learning on Country’ MAYALTHA – MIḎAWARR

Doris and I have been working on a Learning on Country guide to the season of Mayaltha/Miḏawarr March/April/May, to inform teachers and students about what is coming up during the season. This is a collaboration with the Shepherdson College LPC, Yalu Marŋgithinyamirr, Gumurr Mathakal Rangers, Diḻak (wise old people) and the land, Wäŋa. These five elements furnish the synergy that powers and the knowledge that directs our work at the Learning on Country (LoC) project at Galiwin’ku.

loc logo

We thought you might enjoy a sneak preview of some of our work. The photography is contributed by Craig Danvers, Yasmin Steel and of course David Hancock. Production on the book for children is beautifully designed by Craig.


This is a story about the time of the year called Mayaltha and Miḏawarr. This book talks about the kinds of food and resources that become available at this time of the year.

Dhiyaŋ wangany goŋdhu limurruŋ mel-lapmaram ḻiya-marrjitiyamiriyam wanha limurruŋ gurrkurr ga ŋorra.

DSCF3746Later in the year we will learn about the season of Dharratharramirr, the cold time. Then we will learn about Rrarranhdharr, the season of hot sand called ”ḻuku ga nhära’ Feet on fire!!! We will learn about the kinds of winds, plants, birds and animals, shellfish and fish that are prevalent at this time of the year. We will include the many different names for these things of our world from the many languages of our place, these names have meanings we must not forget.

Yalalaŋu limurr dhu nhäŋu Dharratharramirrindja ga bala nhäŋu Rrarranhdhamirr waluy term dhambumirriwyu. Dharratharrany dhuwal walu ŋunhi ŋuli guyŋarrmurriyrra. Ga Rrarranhdhamirr waluy ḻuku ga nhäramirr. Ga dhiyal dhuŋgarray ga waltjan dhu nhäŋu wata, dukittj, warrakan,  maypal ga guya, ga bala nhäŋu ga marŋgithirr litjalaŋgu ŋaḻapaḻmirr mala romgu ḻarruŋal ŋathaw. Ŋurruyirrynydja ŋuli ŋatha-ŋamakuliŋu mala ŋalindiy Aprilyu. Mayaltha ga Miḏawarrŋur nhakun ḏukitjdhun marŋgithirr nhä malany ga ŋuthan, ga nhaku dhu ḻarrum ŋathaw.

a3The first shoots of the season are sprouting now and telling us the season of Mayaltha approaches. The time for the young and old people to meet on country is beginning. Together the old and young will discover the stories living inside the places of the country. Together we will learn to read and listen to the stories, sounds and signs of the country.Images from Elcho Island, Arnhem Land, showing the coastal landscape and floraŊuruṉiny dhu ḏukitjdhu ŋuli mel-ḻakaram ŋunhiyiny walu Mayalthanha. Ga waluny dhuwal djamarrkuḻiw ga worruŋu mala nhänharaw dhiyak wäŋaw ŋurruyirr’yunaraw. Rrambaŋi worruŋu mala ga djamarrkuḻiw mala dhu nhäma ga ḻarrum ga märram dhäwu’ ŋorra ga djinawa dhiyal wäŋaŋur ŋarakaŋur. Ga rrambaŋi limurr dhu bala marŋgithirr nhänharaw ga märranharaw rirrakaywu, dhäwuw’, meḻ-ḻakaranhamirr dhiyak wäŋaw ŋarakaw.

Images from Elcho Island, Arnhem Land, showing the coastal landscape and floraGarrukal (kookaburra) laugh in the early morning as the gentle wind blows from the North East.

a12Along the cliff edges the miḻimiḻi, (dragonflys) play in the morning breeze and over-head wirri-wirri (Rainbow Bee Eaters) whistle.

Gurrka Walpa in the distance - CopyMayaltha is the time the grasses flower on the hill tops from Miḻabalŋa (Gorabi Cliffs) and down to Ŋurruwurrunhanaŋa (Point Bristow).

Images from Elcho Island, Arnhem Land, showing the coastal landscape and floraNew frogs and cicadas are beginning to sing as the land dries out and the new season begins.

_674672Mayalthany dhuwal walu ŋunhi ŋuli mulmu ga wurr’ki mala ŋurruŋu dhawat’thun ḏukitj. Beŋur ga Miḻabalŋalil ga Ŋurruwurrunhanaŋur ga bala runu’runu wäŋalil mala. Dhiyaŋ Mayalthay ḏukitj dhu ga mulmuy ga ŋurruyirr’yun wurr’ki mala beŋur garramatŋur dharpaŋur ga bala ŋoylil.

_757603Ŋunhili garrukal ŋuli gitkit’thun yurr goḏarr munhawumirr ŋayi ŋuli wata boyun yawulu luŋgurrma yäku wäta’. Ŋunhili wata’ŋur ŋuli miḻi-miḻi ga won mala wirri-wirri ga buḻyun wataŋur, ga yuta won mala ga garkman mala dhawat’thun dhiyaŋ waṯa’y.

as3The yindi guya (big fish) that have been out at sea are returning, dhinimbu (mackerel), gopu (tuna), warrukay (barracuda) and dhikarr (flying fish) swim around Ŋalkaŋa and Gukuḏa reefs in front of Dhalmana (Abbot Island).

_1055691Beŋuryiny yindi guya mala ŋuli wulanŋur ga roŋiyirr ḻup’ḻupthun dhuwali dhinimbu, gopu, warrukay ga dhikarr ŋarirri ŋuli lup’lupthun ḻiw’maram Gukuḏaŋur ga Ŋalkanŋur gumurrŋur Dhalmana.

aaaaThere are a number of named types of permanent stone based fish traps or ḻoḻu around the coast of the mainland and islands. These fish traps are focal parts of the pre-existing ancestral geography and as such key sites for residence and food gathering. As these fish traps belong to the ancestral inheritance of particular groups they have specific names. These names include Yambirrpa, Yirwarra, Rrurrambu, Neny, Guluwurrulu, Gaṉḏamu, Naṉḏawarra and the Betŋu. The wind and tides tell us when to use the fish traps.

IMG_6794At this time, Mayaltha and Miḏawarr, the lowest tide of the daily tides, occurs during the day and so these permanent stone fish traps are best used during the day light hours.  The following kind of fish trap built at Ŋayawili is called a Naṉḏawarra and is a named part of the ancestral inheritance of the Gamalaŋga people even though it is situated here on their mother’s mother’s country.

2These fish traps have not bee reactivated since the 2010 ‘Fish traps of the Crocodile Islands’ film was made on Murruŋga Island.

a7 (2)Ḻakarram dhu watay ga gapuy nhakurr limurr dhu marrtji. Ŋurruthirr ga raŋithirri gapuy ga lakaram ŋatha manymak guya ḻoḻumirr walu ga marrtji. Ga beŋur Mayalthaŋur ga bala Miḏawarrlil ŋunhiyiny walu dhiyakun ḻoḻuwunha djämaw. Dhiyaŋuny walu dhuwandja gapuny barkun marraṉdilnydja baṉḏanynha mirthirra walupuynydja waluy, ga ŋunhiyi walu manymak, yurr ḻoḻu gaṉḏumu nhirrpanaraw.


For the other six months of the year the fish traps are best used at night. The fish trap catches ratjuk (barramundi) and djuḻurrpi, (giant threadfin salmon).

_1056410Ga ḻikan ga ḻikan ŋuli ŋorrany. Ŋunhinyiny ḻoḻu wiripuny ŋayi ŋuli dhärra wiyin’nha yan ga munhawun ŋurruthinyaray ŋuli gärriny ratjuk ga djuḻurrpi.

Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem Land

Book of shellfish from north Australian waters – Arnhem Land

These fish traps are also a good source of shellfish. Maypal. In Mayaltha and Miḏawarr the old days people would remake the fish traps on the ocean side of Galiwin’ku and collect shellfish.shells and shellfish from the Arnhem Land coastDhiyaŋ Mayaltha and Miḏawarr baman ŋurruŋu mala yurr guyaw djäma ḻoḻu gaṉḏamu ŋarirriw, dhiyalanydja wayaŋakurr gali’ŋur dhiyal Galwin’ku dhaŋaŋ’kuŋ ŋarirri yurr’ ŋurruy gapay ga gaṯmaraŋal maypal.

In Mayaltha and Miḏawarr we will collect shellfish on the westerly side of the island. The kind of maypal collected on this side at this season are garrwili, gumin’ka, djuḻkumu, dhupugaḏi, dhotay, diyamu, buthurru wuŋany, barawatharr, ŋäṉ’ka, mitawara and, girriwitji.Images from Elcho Island, Arnhem Land, showing the coastal landscape and floraDhiyaŋ bala Mayaltha and Miḏawarr limurr dhu maypalandja buma wayaŋaŋur gali’ŋur dhiyal Galiwinkuny dhiyaŋuŋuny walu ga dhuŋgarray ga maypalnydja garrwili, gumin’ka, djuḻkumu, dhupugaḏi, dhotay, diyamu, buthurru wuŋgan, barawatharr, ŋäṉ’ka, mitawara ga girriwitji.

In Mayaltha plants and grasses are starting to flower on the hilltops, like the ḏambaŋaniŋ or galpuŋaniŋ (Purple Clover).a12sMayalthanytja waluy ŋayi ŋuli wurrkiny ŋuthana, nhakun ḏambaŋaniŋ.

Ŋaḻapaḻmirrr (Old People) have a story about this ḏambaŋaniŋ. These flowers told the Old People the time of yindi ŋatha (big food) is coming.Walal worruŋuy mala ŋuli ga ḻakaram ŋunhi dhiyaŋ waluy ga dhuŋgarray ŋunhi yinidi ŋatha manymak walu.

“As the seasons change we think of the old people, the ancestors, we think of gathering maypal.”– Djalu Gurruwiwi, Yolŋu elder[1]

[1] Djalu Gurruwiwi, Yirriṉiṉba Dhurrkay, Galinini Yunupingu, Djarrka, p 12 in James, B. (2016) Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place. A Yolŋu Bilingual Identification Guide to Shellfish of North East Arnhem Land. NAILSMA Ltd. Tien Wha press, Sydney, Singapore.

thomson Childre from MaypalTPH 1277. Children’s buŋgul at Ŋarawundhu, Miliŋimbi. Photographs on page 19, Maypal, D. F. Thomson. Courtesy of the Thomson family and Museum Victoria. The Ŋaḻapaḻmirrr (Old People) say that at this time of the year great hunter spirt ancestor known as the Gurrmirriŋu begins to light his fires on the island of Gurriba Island and the smoke can be seen from the main land. Old people begin to cry when they see the smoke, remembering those that have gone before

Images from Elcho Island, Arnhem Land, showing the coastal landscape and flora

Ŋunhi ŋaḻapaḻmirrr marŋgi ŋunhiyiny wäŋa dhuwalaŋawuy Gurrmirriŋu bala ŋuli ŋurruyirryun gurtha gama dhuŋguryun ŋunhili runu’runuŋur ŋunhal Gurriba runu’ŋur wäŋaŋur. Bala ŋuli wäŋaŋur nhäman ŋawululnha ŋaḻapaḻmirryndja bala walal ŋuli nyayunamirra. Ŋunhi walal ŋuli nhämany ŋunhi ŋawululnydja nhäranhawuynydja, bala guyaŋan ŋunhi yolŋu-yulŋuny warwuyuna ŋuhni ŋathil dhiŋgaŋal.

a1Miḏawarr is the season of smooth waters and time to go hunting for turtles. Miḏawarr is the season of harvesting bush fruits._1055665Miḏawarr is coming to an end when the northwest wind changes to the northeast wind, bringing rough seas and heavy waves. The sound of the sea can be heard all over Galiwin’ku early in the morning, later the east wind blows all day.

Knock’em down winds signal the end of miḏawarr and the beginning of dharratharramirri before the rain falls the wind blows very hard and the air becomes very cold.

Images from Elcho Island, Arnhem Land, showing the coastal landscape and floraBulu Miḏawarr ŋunhi ganatjirri dhapanbal, wapurarrnha, ga gurrumnha ga ŋorra’ ŋunhiyiny walu nhe dhu marrtjin miyapunulil. Ga Miḏawarr ŋunhi walu bunharawnha djiltjipuy borumgu.

_1056149Midawarr ga marrtjin ŋunhi ŋuli Ḻuŋgurrma waṯa’ biw’yun ga gapuny ŋuli ḏuwumirriyirra ga yindin duwuny mirithirra, ga rirrakaydja nhe dhu ŋäma’ny liw’ḏap dhiyal Galiwin’kuŋur munhawumirrinydja bala ŋayiny ŋuli ḻuŋgurrmany ga biw’yuna yan bitjana billi.

170093Ga waṯa’y bulu daw’maranharawnha mulmuwnha bala ŋayi dhu dhawar’yuna Miḏawarrnyndja ŋunhiny walu dharratharraminirra. Bala Miḏawarrnyndja ŋunhiny walu ŋayi dhu ŋurru-djuḻyuna waḻtjanha ga bulu ŋayi ŋuli guyŋarrmirriyirra ga guyŋarrnha mirithirra nhäkun murthawuy.




On 28062018- the July – August Australian Geographic (P 44-47)- celebrated territory photographer, David Hancock’s wonderful article on shellfish, ancestors and links to country was released. David fathoms a deeper level of significance in the ancestral connections of shellfish and their kinship with the people of the country. So much of his work values, celebrates and captures the light of what is truly Australian – if such a thing exists, David gets it.   Here with permission….


Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem LandTo the people of Arnhem Land, shellfish and other sea creatures nourish a link to country and culture.

Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem Land“As the seasons change we think of the old people, the ancestors, we think of gathering maypal.”– Djalu Gurruwiwi, Yolngu elder

Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem Land

WHEN THE YOLNGU of north-east Arnhem Land look to the sea they know the season by the direction and feel of the wind. One thing the wind communicates, they say, is when certain ‘maypal’ are plump and ready to be gathered.

qqThe term maypal covers many marine and some terrestrial creatures that have sustained generations of Yolngu for millennia. In one sense it means shellfish. But maypal includes foods non-indigenous Australians wouldn’t put in that category, such as land snails, marine worms and insect larvae, including witchetty grubs. Maypal are fundamental to Yolngu culture.

Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem LandThey are tasty and easy to harvest. Just go down to the beach or among the mangroves. They sustain coastal people not only physically, but also spiritually and emotionally. Huge middens of shells along Australia’s northern coastline attest to the popularity of maypal: in some areas middens more than 30m-high date back many thousands of years.

Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem Land“In the north of Australia, we have an incredibly varied, rich and complex coastline, in which exists a large number of ecological zones,” says Dr Bentley James, a Northern Territory anthropologist and linguist who lived in Arnhem Land for many years. “There are more than 1500km of coastline on the mainland and another 1750km of coastline on the islands, not to mention all the reefs and sand bars.” He says the Yolngu recognise some 15 ecological zones inhabited maypal and featuring 110 species. These are described by about 350 different Yolngu names with complex layers of kinship and connectedness entailing a highly sophisticated view of the natural world. Most maypal have multiple names in different clan languages and are celebrated in songs and traditional lore.


SO-CALLED INCREASE RITUALS practised by the many coastal clans ensure the fecundity of maypal, enhancing their fatness and abundance in the coming season. According to Yolngu woman Doris Yethun Burarrwanga from Elcho Island, maypal provide balanced nutrition and “everything a young person needs to grow…That is why children in coastal homeland centres have the best teeth in the country and infinitely better health outcomes in the long-term.” These kinds of shellfish and other invertebrate sources of protein are much loved, she says. “We sing for them. We care for them…We eat them and celebrate them and, in return, they give us life.” Doris says maypal are a crucial part of life by the sea for Aboriginal kids, not just as a supplement to their diet, but also because they provide “a spiritual link and a physical and nutritious reconnection with country and kin.”

Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem LandBentley has recently collaborated with Yolngu people to compile a bilingual identification guide to maypal. The knowledge was collected from conversations with traditional owners over many years. During the process, “we had to find the maypal, catch them, cook them, eat them and name them,” he says. “It was a great joy involving families from so many places.” The book, entitled Maypal, Mayali’ Ga Wänga: Shellfish, Meaning and Place a Yolngu Bilingual Identification Guide to Shellfish of North East Arnhem Lan (NAILSMA , 2016), describes maypal in three languages: Yolngu  Matha, English and Latin.Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem LandThe process of publishing the book was consistent with the Yolngu way and lore, Bentley notes. More than 500 people across seven language groups were involved, ranging from toddlers to nonagenarians.

Book of shellfish from north Australian waters - Arnhem LandThe book will be distributed to schools in Arnhem Land and among eight ranger programs and eventually be given to libraries across Australia. It offers local children “an opportunity to know the full spectrum of rare names and ecological knowledge of shellfish, hitherto kept safe by a tiny population.”

20170708_132301Bentley says. “This knowledge stretches over thousands of years from one side of Arnhem Land to the other – from the eastern sunrise over Blue Mud bay to sunset west of the Crocodile Islands.” The book is a gift to future generations, he adds, “to help children walk in the footsteps of the ancestors,”

Even more incredible is David’s new book celebrating “the most amazing place in the world”, David who is always in Arnhem Land says “I don’t care what people say about Antarctica or the Amazon or anywhere like that, Arnhem Land is the most amazing place in the world”

And there aren’t many people in Arnhem Land who haven’t seen him island and rock hopping around with his camera early in the morning looking for the light! This light is evident in Kuwarddewardde.

His new masterpiece is ‘Kuwarddewardde: The Stone Country’, in it he details the people, the landscape, history and most stunning rock art of the people of the Stone Country.

See a glimpse of it here…

Australian Geographic: 2018-06-28 – Kuwarddewardde ……/282071982621365

Buy Kuwarddewardde: The Stone Country, direct from – David, $60, available from

  Gallery Two Six 6 Catterthun St Winnellie NT 0820

  • Ring David 0419 884 388




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.

DSCF4199 - Copy

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.

IMG_4454 - Copy

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

Therese Ritchie

Angie Gray







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’.

_969446worked copy


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.  ( 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.


[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.


[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] CI-letterhead-11-11.pdf


[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.,

[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.