Whilst 2020 has thrown us many curveballs, we’re so thrilled to see that life in Yirrkala in Australia’s Northern Territory has continued on in a mostly ‘normal’ way, and in particular for our partners, Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation and Yirrkala School with a set of beautiful Learning on Country Galtha Rom workshops recently taking place.

Gurruṯu | Rorruwuy & Nyinyikay Homeland Galtha Rom Workshops for Senior students

A three-hour drive from Yirrkala, Rorruwuy Homeland and Nyinyikay Homeland were the sites for the first lot of these Learning on Country Galtha Rom workshops. Building on the identity work from the previous workshop that took place in Term 2, this five-day workshop gave the group of Senior students (Years 10, 11 and 12) the opportunity to explore the higher level aspects of their cultural knowledge.

Senior Cultural Advisor Rrawun Maymuru gives his perspective on the importance of this learning, as the “biggest, respected cultural system dating back thousands of years. Teachers and elders come together on the first day (of the Galtha workshop) to talk about their connection and their gurruṯu (kinship) system, Yolŋu and non-Indigenous. This should happen on the first day, so they (the students) know why we must act and how we act.”

The Learning on Country Galtha Rom workshops bring together students, teachers, Elders and rangers to experience one of the richest ways of learning and passing on of cultural knowledge, ensuring the higher level Yolŋu learning the students take from these workshops is used in the subjects they are doing within the Northern Territory educational curriculum.

“Yolŋu gurruṯu system and teaching starts from when we are born. Our system is on both sides, mother side and father’s sides. When ceremony starts we see different clans coming together. That symbolises Yolŋu from Yirritja moiety and Dhuwa moiety are coming together like one nation. This symbolises the connection between the tribes as we are all one, under yothi and yindi,” Rrawun explaining about the Gurruṯu system.

Gurruṯu is fundamental to the Yolŋu way of life. The depth of knowledge and meaning behind this system is hugely complex, and is something that young Yolŋu people must learn and live by.

“It’s important for the young generation to understand these stories, but you do need to understand who owns what and the borders between them,” says Maymuru.

Whilst we might only catch a glimpse into this intricate system of social and cultural connection, the impact on young Yolŋu people from this Learning on Country Galtha Rom workshop will stay with them their whole lives, continuing to strengthen their culture and identity whilst also hitting those Western educational markers.

“Yambirrpa Fish Trap” | Nuwul Galtha Rom Workshop for Middle Years Students

Walking distance from Yirrkala is Nuwul, where the ancient Yambirrpa fish trap is located. The Elders, Dhimurru rangers and Yirrkala School chose Yambirrpa for their most recent three-day Learning on Country Galtha Rom workshop with the Middle Years (Year 8 & 9) students.

Yambirrpa is the name of an ancient fish trap, which has been used for thousands of years by Yolŋu.

Yambirrpa can also be used as a metaphor to explain the importance of people and organisations to work together, as just one stone out of place can allow fish to escape. The fish trap is common ground for people to come together, build up the stones together, eat the fish together and share the catch.

Senior Cultural Advisor, Rrawun Maymuru explains how important it is to bring young Yolŋu people onto country, showing them how to make the spears for hunting and bringing the cultural knowledge along with it.

“The boys were excited to use the spears (they made), and to go to Yambirrpa to catch the mullet. When we woke up we had to wait for the landowners. It’s respect.”

“Tides when out in the Yolŋu world, when living on the coast the tides are the clock. String rays, turtles, fishing, mud crab, everything has its own tides. We are connected to it. The sun itself is cool (morning), hot (middle of the day), cool (evening),” explains Rrawun.

All Learning on Country Galtha Rom workshops impart a truly unique and special part of Yolŋu culture, which equips young people with the knowledge and understanding of their own place in their community.

“The Yambirrpa is an important part of the local Yolŋu cultural landscape. It is also a symbol of the Yirrkala School. Students, staff, rangers and elders all worked together to help rebuild the stone walls,” explains Rrawun.

This area has so much cultural and historical significance, the Elders, teachers and rangers are coming together to impart this knowledge to young Yolŋu students, and there’s already talk about how this Learning on Country Galtha Rom workshop can build into another which would continue on these themes in 2021.

In a year that’s had its fair share of challenges, we’re so thrilled to see the richness of these Galtha Rom workshops continue to come through so strongly for young Yolŋu people in Yirrkala.


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