In this film we join the great Yolngu leader and artist Djambawa Marawili in his homeland of Baniyala in East Arnhem Land where he lives and works with his wife Liyawaday Wirrpanda.
“A few years ago I was standing on the edge of the monsoon rainforest bordering a vast flood plain near the homeland of Baniyala with Djambawa Marawili.
Djambawa recounted how in the dawn of creation ancestral figures had moved up the coast, digging for edible roots as they went, creating springs and fresh water that bubbled out along the plains. He described how, when the first sun came up, these ancestor women turned into Brolga Cranes. As he sang the song several brolgas emerged from the mists and flew slowly towards the coast.
For me the great miracle of that morning rested in that moment of time – being there, seeing the living land and sensing the deep time so intimately linked with the life and art of the people who had lived in it for so long”.
“We would like you to meet Djambawa Marawili and to learn about his culture and people and in this film we take you back to East Arnhem Land and to the important homeland community of Baniyala, nestled on the shores of Blue Mud Bay.
Intimate knowledge of the land, sea and sky and what it contains, the spiritual understanding that the patterns of nature and ancestral beings are laid on this precious land and sea has sustained the Yolngu people of East Arnhem Land for countless thousands of years.
These are the things we should also understand.
"It is in my mind, not only in my heart, it is in my soul. It won’t run away from me. I live with it until I die".
As the family hunt for fish and crabs by the old crabbers camp on Blue Mud Bay, Joshua gathers up his catch while Djambawa looks for crabs and stingrays. This is a fleeting moment of relaxation for Djambawa and his family, his work as an artist, running the community, conducting ceremonies, chairing arts boards and the school, dealing with politicians from far away, all these things mean his working day is very long.
Ever vigilant over his land, always looking, always knowing what is going on, there were native title and sea rights to reclaim and defend, Djambawa has fought long and hard to reclaim the sea for his people.
What is so deeply moving in this creative, intellectual and complex world is the way that the Yolngu people have used art as sacred, as law and as protest.
A masterpiece of international art, the Yirrkala church panels painted in the early 1960s, were the first significant land rights statement by Yolngu people. There were to be many more.
Art was to be used yet again as a weapon to defend land and culture. The famous Bark Petitions of 1963 were created to demonstrate opposition and resistance to the Commonwealth Government’s exclusion of Yolngu people from decisions at that time relating to mining on traditional Yolngu lands.
In such a way and many years later, did Djambawa and a generation of elders express a statement of knowledge, law and ownership by creating 80 bark paintings to oppose intrusions into their lands. Today these masterpieces of art are kept in the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.
At last victory came, in July 2008 the High Court of Australia confirmed that the traditional owners of Blue Mud Bay have exclusive rights to tidal waters overlying Aboriginal Land. The ruling was to extend far beyond Blue Mud Bay.
Yolngu law in Yolngu lands triumphant once again. The fight for rights continues.