ABORIGINAL ART & CULTURE

Back to Baniyala and Blue Mud Bay

The drive from Yirrkala to the homeland of Baniyala during the month of September is a dry one along dusty and corrugated roads, the drive takes about three and a half hours through forested land. Today we are driving in the middle of the day.

"The land here is rich with the knowledge of the past, the present and the future"

At this time of year the fires are burning around us. Not the explosive and deadly fires to the of the south of this continent, but a mostly slow and narrow front line of fire slowly consuming the browning landscape, the small but insistent flames leaving the blackened earth behind them. There is occasional and dense smoke from the fires but mostly the air is crystal clear. There are no clouds today and as the sun warms the Yolngu earth the road ahead shimmers in the bright light.

Soon after leaving Yirrkala all our ways of communicating to the world are gone, no mobile phone connection, no Internet, no radio or TV. The road is silent except for the birds and the sound of the wind rustling in the dry forest. The grevillea and other plants are in flower and the palms and cycads push up new green from their fire-blackened trunks.

The first time we made this journey it was during the night. On that night all that was around us in the darkness remained a mystery, only the edges of the road illuminated by our powerful headlights. In the light the owls danced ahead of us, swooping into the beam, bats too joined the dance as they gathered insects in the yellow light. On that journey we were following artist and cultural leader Djambawa Marawili back to his homeland.

Later and on other night journeys through Eastern Arnhem Land Djambawa would name, speak or sing the places we passed through. Each place on the land has a name as does every small part of the sea. "This is how we chose our own names". The land here is rich with the knowledge of the past, the present and the future.

Back on our daylight drive and we are going to stay with Djambawa and his family once more. Being in Arnhem Land is always a joy and being in the Yolngu homelands, the small tribal communities which represent a move away from the mission centres of a too often grim colonial past and back to tribal country and a traditional lifestyle, will always be in our memory.

In coming weeks and at journey’s end there will be many Yolngu blog stories and film clips as well as two documentaries (Q2 2015), one about the art, cultural and leadership life of Djambawa Marawili, the other about Nyapanyapa Yunupingu as she takes us on her own art journey.

There is a very great deal to tell you about.