The vast majority of the population of Arnhem Land are Aboriginal. The Indigenous people particular to this region are called Yolŋu and have lived here for over 50,000 years. In that time they have developed a sophisticated belief system and understanding of the environment that rivals the knowledge of the world’s great universities combined.
Trading and intermarrying with the Macassans of Indonesia since 1100-1600 AD, little was known about the Yolŋu by western culture until the 1930’s when anthropologist Donald Thomson lived with the Yolŋu, forging strong bonds and recording their way of life. In the decades that followed the Yolŋu resisted dispossession from all quarters, including missionaries and Japanese invaders during WWII.
The Yolŋu people are the traditional owners of nearly 100,000 square kilometres of land and marine estates, which are held under inalienable freehold title. Clans in the area have maintained traditional customs and practices, including hunting, language, arts and dance.
Many of the Yolŋu live in small ‘Homelands’ which are based around a family group; they are sacred places, bountiful sources of food, and of diverse and great beauty. The large number of different clan groups and some 40 clan-languages in the region reflect the richness and diversity of culture. Yirrkala is the largest Aboriginal community in the region and is located approximately 15km from Nhulunbuy. It is also home to arguably the best Aboriginal Art Centre in the country, Buku Larrnggay Mulka. Nhulunbuy is also located close to the Gulkula site, the site of Australia’s most significant cultural event, Garma, run by the Yothu Yindi Foundation. Culture College is the only Operator that is allowed to have its school groups stay at Gulkula and it is where our Cultural Exchange Program takes place.