Yolŋu Aboriginal Consultants Initiative


Gifted and Talented

Miliŋinbi Water

Community engagement project on water management. More

Gifted and Talented

More than a roof over our heads

Consultation for better housing outcomes. More


Gifted and Talented


Yolŋu perspectives on gambling practices. More


Gifted and Talented

Gifted and Talented

Yolngu perspectives on gifted and talented children. More

Maths as a cultural practice


Maths as a Cultural Practice in Aboriginal Communities. More

Healthy Heart and Lungs

Healthy Hearts and Lungs:

Interpreting medical multimedia across cultures. More

Gifted and Talented

Financial Literacy Project

Evaluation of financial literacy at Milingimbi and Ngukurr. More

Box of Veg

Box of Veg

Proposed Community Supported Agriculture model More


Yolŋu Longgrassers on Larrakia Land

An investigation into issues affecting Yolŋu people living under the stars in the Darwin area. Download pdf


Gifted and Talented Children

Eight Yolŋu consultants came to Darwin from Arnhemland for a research workshop looking at ‘Gifted and Talented children’. The plain language statement prepared for the CDU ethics committee said:

Yolŋu elders can often identify very special young people who will grow up to be leaders in ceremony, in clan groups, in the community or in politics. But the school system does not understand Yolŋu points of view on what it means for a young person to be seen as ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’.

This project will brought together Yolŋu elders and educators to work as a ‘focus group’ to talk about:

  • How can we tell which Yolŋu children are the leaders of the future?
  • What Yolŋu words are used to describe these people and what do they mean?
  • What do these children need to learn to be a leader?
  • What role will the fill as leaders?
  • Who, how and where does the family and community work to grow them up?
  • What should school teachers and Education Departments know about these young people?
  • What should school teachers and Education Departments do to help these young people?

The consultants were:

The project was funded by The National Centre of Science, Information and Communication Technology, and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR) see http://simerrnt.cdu.edu.au/home.htm

In our previous SiMERR workshop we were funded to look at mathematics in a Yolŋu community and in a Yolŋu classroom (see www.cdu.edu.au/macp ). For this project we were funded to look at Yolŋu perceptions of Gifted and Talented Children. This is what Michael, John and Helen put as the ‘rationale’ into the funding application:

Future Aboriginal leaders are often identified by their elders when they are still young. In each new generation of children in Arnhemland – and throughout remote Australia, particular children are identified as gifted and talented, and strategies are put in place to help them grow towards leadership. These significant practices are, with very few exceptions, entirely unrecognised by the processes of formal education. Furthermore, Indigenous perspectives on ‘giftedness’, the means of identifying ‘talent’ and the practices for supporting the development of leaders can sometimes be seen as quite contrary to the sorts of behaviours and practices fostered in the formal classroom. This project aims to document senior Aboriginal people’s perspectives on the characteristics of such children, the ways they are identified, and the ways in which they are encouraged and supported as they grow to maturity. It will also examine the elders’ experience of formal schooling, and reflections on the role of schools in supporting gifted and talented young Aboriginal people. This is a significant project because it approaches for the first time issues surrounding the education of gifted and talented Aboriginal children from an Aboriginal perspective. Its aim is to work towards ways in which those young people who are identified in their communities as having considerable political, religious, and economic potential for their clan groups, can be best supported in formal schooling. When community elders are invited to address this question carefully and collaboratively in terms of current formal education provisions in rural and remote communities, they will come up with surprising and significant recommendations.

SiMERR agreed to fund the project, and offered more money if we wanted to conduct a workshop with NTDEET staff to inform them of the outcomes. We applied to the CDU Human Research Ethics Committee, who asked for evidence that the proposal had been reviewed by academic peers, and by an Indigenous researcher, confirmation that the results will be provided in hardcopy form to participants, by an Indigenous researcher, that we confirm that the Yolŋu lands being a small area, that our findings could not be generalised across the NT. We were asked to provide details of the consent process, and details of how will participants be reminded that they can withdraw at any stage. We satisfied these requirements and were given the go-ahead.

We worked out who would be available and made bookings for consultants to come to Darwin. We included the two consultants from Ngukurr because they were already in Darwin to work on the evaluation of the TCU financial literacy project. While they were in Darwin, the consultants also gave a public seminar on Indigenous community Engagement for another CDU research project.

We met in the SAIKS seminar room at Charles Darwin University on the 21st and 22nd February, 2008. We made audio recordings of all that happened, and at the end, the Yolŋu consultants also gave their overall impressions and summing up on video. John made notes on the audio tapes of the workshop. (see What happened) Michael transcribed and translated the video tapes, and was later able to talk to Yiŋiya and Lawurrpa to confirm his translation. (see Key texts) Michael made a summary of the main ideas from the key texts (see Key findings) Michael and John made a list of key concepts (see resources tab) to an understanding of Yolŋu perspectives on gifted and talented children. Other people contributed other material


Below are transcriptions from recorded interview/statements made during the workshop



Dhaŋgal SAIKS 21 Feb 2008 (Tape 6 G&T.wav) View video in Resources tab top ^


14 Let’s put in a different nhawi, why we… how we can tell Yolŋu kids become leaders in our way, in Yolŋu rom, culture. In the old days just before when many boys go through initiation ceremony, the boys get painted on their chest. 100 The painting that they put on the boys are their own traditional paintings, the land where they belong to, or what creatures their totem is. That is painted on the chest of every boy. 123 After it has been painted the boys stand up to get it dried out, and they stood in a line, and the elders used to observe them then. If a painting peeled off the boy’s body, that boy was never chosen to be a leader, because the painting really told the elders how the boy was going to grow up and do other things rather than being a leader. And to the boy whose body painting wasn’t peeled, that was the leader for the future. 230 And during the time they used to know who those leaders were going to be. Nowadays, that isn’t being looked into properly like there’s many other nhawi distractions that come up, 303 other things that come and take their mind off from the things that they’re supposed to learn.

Children need to learn to become leaders when they have a role model. 348 They can watch that person carefully, some do it when they play around they have, they go through, like imitate which person they are. 404 But nowadays there is a problem with the language: 422 kids are now talking in language that is different from what the adults speak, and the language they have created themselves this time the adults doesn’t know or understand what they are talking about. 449 To be able to really sit down and communicate with the children you have to come to their level of language. And with the difference in that language nowadays, that’s the problem where we can’t even get to them, because they wouldn’t understand what we’re talking about. 527 And I have found that myself. Djamarrkuli’, kids should be encouraged by their families but there is another problem out there as well. Family members, they have their own things they are busy with, doing other things, instead of encouraging those children.

There are a lot of community problems in the community, 536 and kids really learn by watching, and whatever they see, some even do what their family members do when they are doing things that are not good for their learning. 702 Like in school, teachers should be aware of their attitude and their behaviour in the classroom, whether a child who can become a future leader, the behaviour and the attitudes that is shown in the classroom by that child towards others. 748 Showing a bit of leadership in the classroom, and helping others understanding what the teacher has given the kids to do, showing responsibility 820 of helping others who are slow. That’s the kind of leader that will be in the future for the Yolŋu.

835 Ga, another thing is that Yolŋu kids in the classroom are not competitive. When they have got a Yolŋu does make a mistake, the other child helps, and sort of talk to him 908 that it’s wrong and they come to the conclusion where the person who knows what he’s doing helps the one who doesn’t know, so they encourage each other and that’s why teachers should be more careful ga make sure the person there …(no cut that off yalala.) 952 … a child who is gadaman’ (smart, clever) I should say gadaman’ should help those who are behind and that’s how Yolŋu is in the classroom, they help each other, even though the teacher doesn’t know, and that’s for children who are talented and gifted, because Yolŋu kids grow up learning everything, the knowledge that is passed through them, they know how to relate to everybody when they are about three or four years old, three. A children that age already knows how he is related to the families that he grew up in, 1107 knows what do they … how he’s related to everybody, through the gurrutu system. He knows who his märi (mother’s mother’s people) is, who his grandfather is, which are his sisters and brothers. That doesn’t mean his biological mother’s children, but her sisters’ children as well, it goes further. Because he already knows how he’s related to all his cousins, you would call, so his mind is always open 1210 for any new things that he can learn, or take in, a Yolŋu grows up, what we call in Yolŋu the ‘ŋayaŋu’, ‘ŋayaŋu’ how to stay and be real close to his family, and his dislikes and likes and what he would like to do. That is already within him, 1302 but growing up with other families around, there are problems as well in there, where kids go off track. But that’s normal in everyday life, but it’s up to the child, that he knows how to make decisions himself, and most of that is not being practised nowadays, I believe, 1357because of all the things that is in the world today. 1419 And those are the barriers that can cause problems for people of today, especially young people. 1440 END


Lawurrpa: SAIKS 21 Feb 2008 (Tape 6 G&T.wav) View video on Resources page top ^


1441 Nhawiku nhaltjan ŋuli dhu lakaram ŋunhi yothuny ŋunhi ŋayi goŋ-munhdhurrmirr, manymak, ŋunhili yothu goŋ-mundhurrmirriyirri bili ŋuruŋi ŋayi ŋuli ŋunhi nhina ga ŋayaŋuy, ŋunhi ŋayi ŋuli marŋgithirri marrtji nhäma ŋalapalmirriny ga nhaltjan ŋayi dhu djäma ga nhaltjan ŋayi dhu nhina,  ga nhaltjan ŋayi dhu ŋunhiyi märram, mundhurr, ga nhaltjan ŋayi li ŋunhi djamarrkuliy nhäma ga marŋgithirr ga ŋuruŋiyiwal ŋayi ga nhina.


Okay, how can we talk about a child who is gifted okay that child has a gift in her hands, so they live by means of their ŋayaŋu (spirit), as they learn, looking at the elders, and how he will work, and how he will sit, and what he can get there, what gifts, how young children see and learn, he lives by those things. Lawurrpa’s Comment if you are adopted into a fimily or someone who is your own family, grew up within that family you know how you can feel the sense of way we do think act treat you get that feeling from the family that’s the deepest meaning.  You can get that learning part living from the family.

1535 Ga napurru ŋuli ŋunhi nhäma ŋanya, bala bitjana gam’: ‘Yow, dhuwaliyiny yothu ŋunhi ŋäyi chosen-dja’, ga dhuwaliny yolŋu ŋayi  ŋunhi ŋuli balanya nhakun ŋayi djuŋgaya, ya’ balanya.


And we see him/her and we say: ‘Yes, that child is chosen’, and that person is sort of like a djuŋgaya (who takes care and has a responsibility to watch over his mother’s clan business), you see.

1558 Ŋunhi ŋayi ŋuli djäma yolŋuy murruy’murruyyun, ga nhina ŋayi ŋuli, bala walala ŋuli ŋanya ŋurruŋukuman. Dhuwali ŋurruŋu nhawi questions (on the whiteboard) , ga dhuwanydja wiripulil, Yolŋu nhaltjan ŋuli Yolŋu nhawi bitjan ya’, describe ya’ bitjan yolŋuny nhakun wiripuŋuny.


If he is working very hard (murruymurruyyun)  and he continues to do so, then they will choose him as a leader.  That’s the first question on the blackboard. So (the second question) how would be describe that (gifted) person as different?

1636 Ga wiripuny nhakun, nhä ŋayi dhu ŋunhi djamarrkuli marŋgithirrnydja märr ga ŋayi dhu ŋunhi, ŋunhiyi märram leadership ya’ balanya, bili yän mak ŋarraku guyaŋanhawuy. Ga nhä ŋayi dhu role ŋunhili ŋayi dhu nhanŋuwuy ŋayi dhä-manapan.


And also, what will those children learn so that they will take on leadership, that’s my thoughts on the matter. And what role will he take on with respect to himself and other people?

1711 Ga yän muka, dhuwaliny nhakun limurruŋgal gali’kurr limurru ŋuli ŋunhi bitjandhi nhäma Yolŋuny, wiripuny ŋunhili, yän dhuwal rrakal nhakun experience-kurr,  nhaltjan ŋarra gan nhäŋal djamarrkuliny’ schoolŋur, ŋunhi ŋayi gan nhaltjarran ŋuthar, ga nhaltjarr ŋayi gan marŋgithin.


Okay, so that’s on our Yolŋu side, how we see the person, it looks different, this is just my experience, when I used to look at the young kids at school, how they grew up, and how they learnt.

1738 Bili limurrnydja ŋuli wiripuny lakaram bitjan ŋayi dhuŋa yän yolŋu, djamarrkuli. Yaka marŋgi ŋayi ŋunhi, marŋgi ŋayi already limurruŋgaldja gali’ŋur, ga ŋayi nhawinha gali’ŋur balandawalnydja nhakun, ŋayi ga mirithin nhawi djälthin ŋayi dhu marŋgikum. Ŋunhi ŋayi ŋunhi nhakun gadaman’tja yothu, nhanukala balandawalnydja gali’ŋur, ŋayi yanbi ŋunhiyin, djambatjnha ga ŋunhiyi ŋayi yolŋuny, ŋunhi walalanydja ŋuli bitjandja djarr’yun Yolŋuny ŋäpakiyny, ŋunhi nhä baladawalnydja gali’ŋur.


Because we may think that he doesn’t understand (the balanda way). But he does really understand, but he is already knowledgeable on our Yolŋu side, and on the Balanda side, he was very keen to learn.  And if he’s a gadaman’ (sharp) kid on the balanda side of things, he thinks, he’s djambatj (smart), and he’s the person the Balanda choose, looking from their Balanda side.

1820 But limurr ŋuli nhakun gali’ŋur, limurru ŋuli märram bitjandhi nhakun barpuru limurr gan waŋanhamirri. Ga manymak, (nhawiku nhakun nhaltjan ŋuli dhu rom gäma), nhaltjan ŋali dhu nhäma ŋunha ŋayi dhu balanday rom gäma, litjalaŋ nhakun Yolŋuw litjalaŋgalaŋa djäma walal djamarrkuliw, yow.


But we on the Yolŋu side, we always get them, like we were talking about yesterday. Okay, so how can we see how balanda can bring a policy (rom gäma) with our children, in the same way the Yolŋu work with our own children?

1843 Ŋarrany ga djälthirr, ga ŋarraku ŋayaŋu, ŋalimurr dhu guŋga’yun dhukarrkurr limurruwuy djamarrkuli’nhany, nhakun Yolŋuy. Mirithirri yan ŋanya gakal’lil gäma balayi, ga ŋanya dhu ga ŋunhi guŋga’yun, ga teachersku balanya bili. Bili ŋarra li ga ŋunhi djälthirri bitjan gam’: Limurr dhu bukmakkum manapanmirr balanda ga Yolŋu, yolŋuwnyda djamarrkuliw, ŋunhanydja schoolŋurnydja,


I want, my ŋayaŋu (inner feeling), is that we will help our children on the path, we Yolŋu. Bring him strongly to that gakal (role) and help him, and that goes for the teachers too. Because this is what I want: We will all come together balanda and Yolŋu for the Yolŋu children, at school

1920 Ga try ŋäŋ’thun balanyayi mala rulaŋdhun dhipal limurruŋ, yalala ŋayi dhu yindithirrinydja ŋunhi djamarrkuliny, limurr dhu walalany bulu further study gurrupan nhakun, nhakun dhuwalatjan nhakun, nhawikurr, through university dhuwal nhakun, walal ga djäma, gutharramirriy ga bulu nhawiyi garrkaraŋdhu ga Michael Christie.


And try to make that happen so that when they grow up, we will give them further study, for example through this university, where John, Waymamba and Michael are working,

1949 Yow ga djäma guŋga’yun dhipali limurr dhu ga support mirithirr ga djamarrkuliny’. Walal dhu marŋgithirri through dhuwalatjan nhakun, bili dhuwalatjan limurruŋguny ga märrma’ walala marŋgi-gurrupan dhiyalnydja nhakun, dhuwalatjan yän limurr dhu ŋunha governmentnha fight nhakun bulu mirithirr walalaŋ marŋgithinya.


So work to help there and give good support for the kids; they will learn this way, because here we are giving them two things: here, and continue to fight for help from the government.

2010 Ga mirithirri limurr dhu ŋunhala banydji ŋändi ga bäpanha ga nhawi waŋa guŋga’yunmirri, ŋunhi dhu raypirri’yun ga marŋgikuŋ walalany djamarrkuliny, ŋunhal wäŋaŋur, ga ŋunhal ga schoollilnydja marrtji, walala dhu balanyakurr marŋgithirr.


So we need very much the mothers and fathers, to talk and help each other, raypirri (discipline) and teach those kids at home, and when they go to school, they will learn through that Yolŋu way.

2027 Guŋga’yunmirr limurru dhu, ga yaka limurr dhu expectingdja yan nhina nhawiku school teacher-w walal dhu guŋga’yun walalany, ga djäma walalaŋ, ga marŋgikum walalany. Yaka, limurr dhu ŋändiynydja bäpaynyda guŋga’yun walalany. Ŋayi dhu, limurr märr-dharaŋan ya’ bitjan.


Helping each other, and not expecting the school teacher alone to help them, and work for them and teach them. No, we the mothers and father should help them. We need to trust each other you see…

2042 Dhuwanydja wäŋa dhuwandja walalnydja ŋuli ga djäma, dhuwandja guŋga’yunaraw, dälkunharaw litjalaŋ, ŋali dhu djalkiri dälkum dhuwaldja, bili dhiyal ga ŋorra litjalaŋ märrmany’ marŋgikunhawuy, nhakun ŋunha dhu balanda way ga Yolŋu.


So the work that goes on here at the university, this is helpful, to make us strong, making our foundations strong, because here there is for us two learnings, the balanda way and the Yolŋu way.

  2102 Ga balanyayi rrakuŋun dhuwal, ŋali dhu nhawi nhakun rur’maram ŋunhi djamarrkuli’ ŋayi walal dhu dhuwali djaw’yun dharapul-djaw’yun märr ŋayi dhu ŋuthan ga marŋgi, bala ŋayi dhu dhiyal djalkirimirri ga dhärra, nhaltjan ŋayi dhu litjalaŋ djamarrkuli future, ya’ balanya ŋalitjalaŋgalaŋuwu yolŋuw djamarrkuliw, ga balanaya rrakuŋun.


So that’s it from me, it will raise up the children, and take those who are and take the place of the people their elders who die, so he will grow and learn and stand with good foundations, what our children’s future will be like, you see, for our Yolŋu children, and that’s it from me.



Gotha, SAIKS 24 Feb 2008 Tape 4 G&T.wav top ^


3450 Yow ŋarrany dhu lakaram dhäwu, ŋunhi gämurru dhuwal napurru ga nhäma nhawim, gämurru gifted ga talented, nhä nhanŋu munhdhurr nhakun, ga nhäthinya nhanŋu gakal, yothuw.


Okay, I’ll tell you a story, about the thing we were looking at, about gifted and talented, what is his gift?  And what is his gakal (spirit) like?  That kid’s.

3515 Ga nhäthinya ŋayi ŋurru-warryunayŋu yothu dhu ŋuthan yalalaŋumirri.


And how will a young leader grow into the future?

3529 Ga waŋanhamirr napurr gan, ŋunhiyi Yolŋu yothu ŋayi dhu ŋuthan raypirri’mirr buthuru-bitjunamirr, djämamirr, räl-wandirr ŋayi dhu, ga ŋuthan ŋayi dhu marrtji ŋuruŋiyi,


We were discussing this, that Yolŋu child, he will grow with raypirri (discipline), listening, working, he will run helping, and he will grow by means of those things.

3552 yaka yän mulkurr ŋayi dhu marŋgithirri, ŋunha birrimbirrnydja ŋayi dhu maranhan gurrupan nhanŋuwuy ŋayi  märr ŋayi dhu rrambaŋi manymak nhanŋu mulkurr ga ŋayaŋu.


It’s not only his head that will learn, he will feed his own birrimbirr (spirit), so that they will both be good together, his head and his ŋayaŋu (self).

3606 Ga ŋunhi ŋayi dhu ga mulkurr yän marŋgikunhamirr ŋayi dhu birrimbirr nhanŋu nhakun yalŋgithirra, bala ŋayi dhu rirrikthuna, yakan ŋayi li manymakkuman marŋgithirr.


If he only teaches his own head, his birrimbirr (spirit) will become weak and sicken, he hasn’t really learnt well.

3620 Ga nhaltjan limurru dhuwalany nhakun gäma dhuwaliyi dhuwalatjandhi dhukarrkurr ŋuthanmaram walalany, bili wiripuwal ŋuli djamarrkuli marŋgithirr walal ŋuli balyunmirr ga lakaranhamirr walalanhawuynha walal, nhawiŋur  nhakun gundaŋur, maypalŋur, gapu, ŋarrpiya, balanya mala nhakun ŋunhiyi gakal walal dhu märram, beŋuruyi.


So how are we going to lead this, the path upon which to grow them, because there’s many different ways for them to learn, they invest in their totems and speak of themselves from what?  Like a sacred rock, maybe some shellfish, water, octopus, they will take on those sorts of gakal (identities), from there.

3659 Ga ŋuruŋiyi, gakalyu walalany yurru gämany, ŋuthan walal dhu, märr walal dhu balanya bitjan gärri balandawalnydja nhawilil romlil ŋunhi ŋuthan barrarimiriwnha marrparaŋnha, bili dhiyal walala already marŋgithin.


So those gakal (ancestral identities) will carry them, they will grow, so that they will go into the Balanda culture, growing without fear, courageously, because they have already learnt from this side.

3716 Ga yolthu walalany dhu marŋgikum?  Ga nhaliy? Ga nhaltjan bili walal ŋunhi? Walal dhu marrtji marŋgithirrinydja, yol ŋayi ŋunhi yothu, ga wanhaŋur ŋayi marrtjin, and wanhawal ŋayi dhu marrtji yalalaŋumirri, ŋunhi ŋayi dhu ŋuthandja.


So who will teach them?  And with what? And how will they teach?  They will grow up to know who he is, and where is he coming from, and where will he go later, when he grows up.

3740 Ga ŋarra nhakun ga djälthirri ŋayi dhu school ga education department nhakun dhuwali ŋula dhukarr malŋ’maram ga manapanmirr dhiyakiyi.


So what I want is for the schools and the education department to find that path (of Yolŋu development) and join in with it.

3756 Bili nhumany ŋunhi departmentthu nhäma liya-djambatj yolŋu mathsŋur, wukirriŋur, matha djinbulk ŋayi English-ku waŋanharaw, yurr napurrdja li yolŋuydja nhäma ŋanyany ŋunha ŋayaŋu, ŋayaŋu gurrum’, dhä-yawulu, ga gurrutumirri yolŋu, ŋayaŋu galkunamirri, buthuru-bitjunamirr, ŋunhiyi leader-ny napurruŋguŋuny, leader ŋayi ŋunhi napurru dhu märram, wo leader ŋayi dhawal-guyaŋany.


So you in the department see liya-djambatj (clever) kids in maths, and writing, good speakers of English, but we see children’s ŋayaŋu (personality), quiet ŋayaŋu, gently spoken, who know their kinfolk, patient ŋayaŋu, good listener, they are the leaders in our way of thinking, leaders whom we choose, or born leaders.

3834 Ga dhiyaki ŋarra ga djälthirr, limurr dhu manapanmirr education ga school ga guŋga’yun ŋunhiyi djamarrkuli’ rur’maraŋ märr ŋayi dhu yalala ŋurru-warryun nhanŋuwuy ŋayi yolŋu walalany, yalalaŋumirriy ŋunhi napurru dhu dhiyal murrmurryurr boŋguŋ.  Ga balanya. 3855


So that’s what I want, we will join up witht eh school education people, and help to raise those children up, so he will later lead his own people, later, when we how are here all pass away.  That’s it.


Garŋgulkpuy, SAIKS 24 Feb 2008 Tape 4 G&T.wav top ^


3901 Yow ŋarra dhu nhakun waŋa, bili nhawi nhakun, wiripu ŋuli dhu birrka’yun bitjan ŋunhi yothu dhuwal, ŋayi ga ŋayatham bäyŋu nhakun gakal’mirr ŋayi wo djambatj nhanŋu ga rom ŋorra,


Okay, I’ll talk about this, because you know, some people say that a child doesn’t have any gakal’ (identity) or djambatj (skill)

3919 yän nhakun ŋunhi yothu balanya nhakun ŋayi gämurru’ŋur nhawiŋur wäŋaŋur wo communityŋur, napurr nhäma nhakun yothuny ŋunhi, balanya nhakun, ŋayi gurrutumirri ŋayi nhakun, 3941 ga nhaltjan nhakun ŋayi dhu ga ŋunhal gakal’ nhanŋuwuy ŋayi milkum, yothuy, ga nhaltjan ŋayi dhu balyunmirr, yol ŋayi, wanhaŋuru ŋayi, ga nhaltjan ŋayi ga ŋunhal manapan wiripuwal bäpurru’lil.


But that child has gämurru (significance), from his land and community, we see that child, with his kin connections, and how through them that child reveals his own gakal (identity), how he balyunmirr (invest in his ancestry), who he is, where he comes from, and how he connects to all the different clan groups.

4002 Ga wiripu nhakun nhawi yumurrkuw napurr djäl, ŋayi dhu nhäma ga, dhukarr nhäma, nhälil ŋayi ga marrtji, nhä mulkuru ga rom gal’yun ŋayi dhu ga nhäma, rom nhäma, dhuwurr nhäma, ŋuruŋiyi yothuy.


So we want for those children that they will look out, see the path, where they are going, and what foreign ways are creeping in, he will see, see the rom (law), see the dhuwurr (implications), that child.

4028 Bili ŋunhili ga rom nhämany dhuwurr nhämany ŋayi dhu, ŋurruŋuny ŋayi dhu ŋal’yun, dhuli’na-witjun, ŋuruk ŋalapalmirriw, ŋunhi ŋayi dhu nhina ŋalapalmirriwal yolŋuwal walalaŋgal, ga nhawi nhakun ŋayi dhu ga, ŋunhili, taking part as nhanŋu future-w, nhanŋu future leadership-ku ŋuruki yothuw.


So there, looking at the rom (law), the dhuwurr (culture), he will rise up in front, listening to the old people, sitting with the old people, with his Yolŋu elders, and through that, take part as his own future, his future of leadership for that child.

4100 Ga nhäma napurr dhu, marŋgithirr ŋayi dhu nhakun, nhä nhanŋu yuwalk ŋunhiliyi rom ŋayi dhu, nhaltjan ŋayi dhu carrying out boŋguŋ, ŋuriŋiyi bala nhakun, yalala ŋayi dhu ŋuthan, nhä nhakun nhanŋu ga already leadership ŋayi, ŋayi dhu marŋgi nhanŋuwuy ŋayi, ŋunhi yothu.


So we will see, he will learn you see, what his true rom (way) that he will go, how he will carry it out in the future, when he grows, what leadership he already has, he will know himself, that child.

4122. Bili most of all Yolŋu djamarrkuli li ga marŋgithirr, beŋur bala nhä ŋayi ga ŋayatham dhiyaŋ nhawiyu wäŋa-ŋarakay, wakir’yunaray, miyapunu, dhika nhaku walal dhu marrtji, maypalwu.  Ŋunhili ŋayi nhakun ŋurruŋuy ŋunhi marŋgithirr yothu, yan be balaŋ. Ga ŋunhili nhakun limurr dhu bulu nhakun limurrunydja yolŋuynydja walal nhakun guŋga’yun, ŋunhiyi yothuny, djamarrkuliny, ŋunhi walal ga dhiyaŋ-bala ŋayatham ŋunhi munhdurr, ga gakal.


Because most of all Yolŋu children learn from what the landforms hold, from hunting, turtle, whatever they go for, shellfish. That’s what they do their first learning, the children, it’s like that. So it’s there that we adults need to help, that child, those children, who already have that gift and gakal (identity).

4205 Limurr guŋga’yun walalany, yolŋu’yulŋuy limurru ŋalapalmirriy, ga nhaltjan limurr dhu ŋunhal guŋga’yun ŋunha bala ŋunhi, ŋunhi walala ga djorra’ mala djäma, marŋgithinyaraw djamarrkuliw’ wukirriŋur. Ga ŋunhili nhakun limurr dhu manapanmirr, ga guŋga’yunmirr ga carrying out limurr dhu bukmakthu, ga dharaŋan limurr dhu nhäma yothuny ŋunhi ŋayi munhdhurrmirr ga gakal’mirr.


We Yolŋu should help them, we adults, and how we need to help them over there where they work with books, for teaching the children in school. That’s where we will come together and help each other and carry it out, all of us, and recognise those children we see as having gifts and gakal (ancestral identities).

4235  Ga bumak limurr dhu nhakun, be limurr marŋgithinyawuy rom ga ŋayatham, ga ŋayi yothuy ŋuruŋiyi, ga ŋali dhu guŋga’yunmirra, ŋunhili, ga liŋgun. 4250


So we should all together, of course we have our our Yolŋu rom (theory) of learning, and so does the child, and we should help each other, on that, that’s all.


Dhäŋgal Interview #2, SAIKS 24 Feb 2008 Tape 4 G&T.wav top ^


4300 Yow, yumurrku, a child is already, knowledge dhanal ŋayatham yumurrku’yu, ga as they grow up ga bala nhan ŋätjil rakaram discussionŋa ga learning stream, ŋarruŋa yaka always open for to receive yuta, yuta ŋarru mäyam yaka yolŋuyu ga ŋätjil rakaraŋ mumalkuryu, mulkurr ga ŋayaŋu waŋganydji ŋarru.


Yes, children, a child,  those children already have knowledge, and as they grow up and (as I said earlier in the discussion), the learning stream is flowing, always open to receive the new, the Yolŋu will take on the new, (what my momalkur said earlier in the discussion) the mulkurr (head) and the ŋayaŋu (spirit) need to come together as one.

4404  They come to a certain age, yumurrku where they make their decisions, wanhalaya dhanal ŋarru nhänharami who they are, where they stand. That’s when they decide what to do.


They come to a certain age those young people, where they start to make decisions, where they look at themselves, who they are, where they stand. That’s when they decide what to do.

4435 Ŋalma dhanaliny dhu ga mäyam, dhaŋum mäyam dhawuru banha mainstreamŋuru, and their foundations stand strong for who they are, already, gain knowledge dhawuru bala, still learning both sides yaka, balancing nhanany banhayany, dhuka malŋ’thuman bilanya banham mala-djarr’yun ŋarru, a true leader dhanal Yolŋu dhawatthun, yothu.


We receive them, and when they come over from the mainstream, and their foundations stand strong in who they are, already, gaining knowledge from over there, still learning both sides, balancing them, finding a path, like choosing, that’s how a true Yolŋu leader will emerge, from a child.

4528 Dhuka nhäma, mala-djarr’yun, guŋga’yundawu bukmakku, yaka yana in the family, ga banhayam mittji, banha bukmakkun bitjarr the whole community.


Look at the path, make decisions to help everyone, not just your own family or your clan group, but for everyone, for the whole community.

4554 Ga Yolŋu walal ŋuthan bilanyami, ŋayaŋu banhaya yolŋuwu, ga mulkurr ŋarru waŋgany-manapanmi. Nhan ŋarru ŋarruŋam, bärrkulil dhaŋum.


So Yolŋu grow up like that, the ŋayaŋu (spirits) of Yolŋu, and their heads becoming one.  Then that person can go far.

4615 Bitjan be yan ŋalma ŋarru balyunmi ŋalmapinya ŋalma bili ŋalmaliŋgu, ŋayaŋu däl, nhä malaŋuny banha nhä walŋan ŋalmaliŋguma ŋoya. Banha nhan area ŋalma ŋarru like empowering ourselves ŋalma ŋarru balyunmim, ŋalma ŋarru däl djinal gali’ŋa, bayaŋu ŋunham problem, dhaŋum gali’ŋa.


So that’s how we have to balyunmi (invest ourselves in our ancestral identities), because our ŋayaŋu (spirits) are strong, all those things which lies there in our lives. In that area, that’s where we should be empowering ourselves in our balyunmi (ancestral investments), if we remain däl (strong, hard) on this side, there will be no problems on that side.

4703  Ga djinaŋum ŋayaŋuyun, ga djälnha banhalaya, doturrkthu ŋalma ŋarru rakaram, warkthuwan ŋarriyan dhawitjaya dhukarrmurrum, mäyaŋun  ŋunhaya, ŋalma ŋarru mäyam. Yow. 4721.


So with this ŋayaŋu (spirit), and this desire, our hearts will speak, go do work follow that path, take that way, we will take that way. Ok.



Yiŋiya Interview, SAIKS 24 Feb 2008 Tape 4 G&T.wav top ^


4730 Djamarrkuli ga nhina dhiyaŋ bala ga ŋäthil gan nhinan, balanya bili yän gadaman’ mala, gali’kurr marŋgithinyakurr, romgurr, Yolŋukurr ga balandakurr.


Children living nowadays and in earlier times are there, gadaman’ (clever) kids, on the knowledge side, in the rom (culture), both Yolŋu and balanda.

4651 Yurr dhiyaŋ bala nhakun ga märr-dhumbal’yun dhiyaŋu education department-thu balanday romdhu. Yolŋu djamarrkuli ŋunhi walal ga nhina dhiyaŋ bala märrmay’ romdhu, waŋganydja yolŋuŋur, yolŋukurr romgurr, raypirri’ ga märram, gakalgu ga marŋgithirr, djambatjku ga marŋgithirr, gondhanaraw ŋathaw, warrakangu, djulam’ ga malŋ’maram, djudapthunamirr, yuluttjunaraw märranharaw, gakal’kurr.


But at the moment the education department is pretty confused in the Balanda rom (way of doing things).  Yolŋu children who are sitting these days for two laws, one through the yolŋu side through yolŋu rom (law), getting raypirri’ (discipline), learning about gakal (identity), learning to be djambatj (good hunters), fetching food, getting meat, working out a djulam’ (strategy) and find those things which are hiding, creep up to get them, through gakal (becoming like totems).

4838 Ga ŋunha ŋayi gan marŋgithirr yolŋu balandakurr gali’kurr, nhaltjan ŋayi dhu balandaw romgu marŋgithirr. Marŋgithirr ŋayi dhu romŋur nhanŋu, ŋunhi ŋayi ga balanday gapman’thu gurrupan, survive dhu dhiyal Yolŋu balandaŋur worldŋur, mak gumurrŋur.


And if a Yolŋu has been learning through the Balanda side, how will he learn the Balanda rom (world).  He will learn from his own rom (way), and what the Balanda government gives, that yolŋu will have to survive in the Balanda world, or ‘front’.

4905 Ga gumurr-watthuna dhumbal’yun ga, ga yan bi ga yolŋun, yolŋun dhumbal’yun yanbi Yolŋun dhuŋa, mak ŋayi ga dhumbal’yun gumurr-däl ga malŋ’maram schoolŋur mala, balanda area-ŋur, mak ga dhumbal’yun wo mak ŋayi marŋgi, yurru teachingpuy dhikayi balandawun romdhu manda ga djulkmaranhamirri Yolŋu ga balanda rom.


So he gets stuck, confused, doesn’t know what to do, the yolŋu is stuck as if he is stupid, maybe he is confused and finds the school business hard, the balanda area, maybe that kid is confused, but maybe he quite a clever kid, but the teachingpuy (pedagogy) through the balanda rom (practices), the two miss each other, the Yolŋu and the balanda rom (ways of teaching).

4937 Yan ŋarrakuny guyaŋanhawuy ŋarra ga bitjan, dhikayi mak manda dhu marŋgithinyamirr bala-räli’yunmirr, ŋayi dhu, napurrdja yolŋuny baman’ larruŋal nhumalaŋgalaŋuw balandaw romgu, nhe napurruny marŋgi-gurrupar, ga yothukuŋal nhe napurruny, ga napurr nhokuŋun marŋgithin romgu mala balandaw, schoolkurr gali’kurr, nhaltjan nhumalaŋ napurr märr-nyilŋ’thun ga dharaŋan nhumalaŋ yanbi rom, ga nhumalaŋguwuy yan rom dhu ga yindithirr, djämakurr malakurr, nhämirr nheny dhu marŋgithirr napurruŋguny romgu?


I was just thinking, maybe those two can learn of each other, back and forwards, they will, for a long time we yolŋu have been searching for your Balanda law for a long time, you taught us, and made us like babies, and we learnt from you your balanda rom (way), through the school side, how we must bend to you, and supposedly understand your rom (ways), and only you rom (culture) will get bigger, through work and jobs, how about you learn something about our rom (law)?

5024 Ga dhiyali ga nhina, djamarrkuli ŋuthan, ŋalapalmirr, talented yan balanya bili balandaŋur romŋur, ŋayi dhu gol, educationgurr golkurr ŋuthan, yan warray, ŋunha  ŋayi dhu be a, become a doctor, ŋayi dhu become a scientist, become a lawyer, or whatever ŋayi dhu become. Balanya bili yan gali’ŋur yolŋuŋur romŋur napurruŋ ga, napurruŋ ga teacher mala ga doctor mala liya-gadaman’mirr mala nhina, ŋunhi napurruny walal li ganha romgu marŋgi-gurrupan.


So here there are, kids growing up, getting bigger, talented in the balanda rom (way), he will go to school, grow through balanda education, right up until he will become a doctor, a scientist, a lawyer, whatever he becomes. It’s the same on the side of Yolŋu rom (culture), we have our own teachers, and doctors, liya-gadaman’mirr mala (clever people), who have been teaching us our own rom (law).

5105 Ga education märrma’ŋur gali’ŋur ŋayi ga yolŋu nhina, napurrdja, waŋganydja yolŋukurr gali’kurr. Ga waŋganydja balanda’kurr gali’kurr.  Yet napurr ga balandalildja gali’lil wapthun, napurr ga gumurr-gatthun, ga dhumbal’yun, failing napurr dharrwa mala, schoolŋur napurruŋ djamarrkuliny. Ga ŋayi ga balanday märram


So yolŋu sit with two educations, we have one on the yolŋu side, and there’s one on the balanda side.
Yet if he moves to the balanda side, we get caught finding it hard, and unable to progress, they are failing at many things, our children in school. He the balanda gets it, (and progresses)

5127 . Mak dhikayi ŋayi dhu balanda rom manda dhu ga Yolŋu rom dharaŋanmirr. Nhe dhu räli Yolŋulil wapthun balanda ga marŋgithin napurruŋ romgu. Ŋunhi napurruŋgun, rum’rummirr rom, ga question mala napurr dhu, yaka napurr dhu ga ŋäŋ’thun ŋunhal goduŋur garma’ŋur mala gakal’mirriŋur romŋur.


 Maybe the balanda and the Yolŋu ways can recognise each other. You balanda should come over on to our side and learn about our rom (ways).  Our rom (way) is a respectful (rum’rummirr) way, and as for questions, we won’t ask a question in the middle (depth, inside) of garma (the open areas, where there is gakal rom (ancestral identities are being performed).

5156 Yän napurru dhu ga marŋgithi bala,  yän marrtji marŋgithirr, malŋ’thun ga yän, yaka marrtji dhä-birrka’yun ŋalapalnha.  Ŋayi napurruny dhu ga marŋgi-gurrupan. Ga dhiyal bala balandaŋur romŋur ga bitjan waŋa: ‘Dharrwa dhu ga ŋäŋ’thun question mala, ga ŋäŋ’thun marrtji marŋgithinyaraw, yothuy dhu ga ŋäŋ’thun ŋalapalnha.’ Ga walalnydja balaŋ ŋayi yolŋuwaldja romŋur, ga yaka manymak ŋayi dhu ŋäŋ’thun. 


We just learn, we just learn as we go, it just appears to us, not going questioning the old people. They will teach us. But now in balanda rom (way) it says: Ask many questions, and ask in order to learn, children should ask old people.”  But if they were doing it the Yolŋu rom (way), it’s not good for him to ask.

5225  Mak nhe dhu balanda rom marŋgithi napurruŋ. Waŋganydja ŋarra dhu bitjan waŋa gam’; Nhä mak nhuma ga ŋanapurruny djändja-gurrupan djamarrkuliw napurruŋ mala education cheating gurrupan? Ga dharrpan mala nhumalaŋguwuy nhuma balandaw? Djamarrkuli märr ga napurr dhu yaka Prime Ministerthirr?


So maybe your balanda ways should learn from ours.  I’ll say one thing: “Are you   shortchanging us? Are you cheating us with the children’s education?  Hiding something belonging to only you balanda? So that our children won’t become a Prime Minister?

5250 Ga napurr dhu yaka, djamarrkuli napurruŋ dhu yaka ŋula nhä lawyer-thirri mala, wo nhuma ga dharrpan napurruŋ. Ga ŋuli bäyŋu, dhuwali yäku mak ŋula nhä ŋuli ‘equality in education’ warrpam’ŋur communityŋur whether it be Yolŋuŋur, yolŋu community centres, schoolŋur mala, wo balandaŋur, napurru djälthirri service napurruŋgu education, equally yan, rrambaŋi manda dhu, yaka dhu ga napurruŋ yolŋu djamarrkuli marrtji ŋuthan gol, barrku sitting mala.


So we will, our kids will never turn out to be anything like lawyers, or are you hiding something from us? If not, then what’s this you call ‘equality in education’ in all communities, whether it be in the Yolŋu communities, Yolŋu community centre schools, or balanda school, we want a service, an education, equally, they should be the same, our kids won’t grow properly in schools, sitting way over there.

5338 Dhiyaŋ bala technology mala, dharrwa mirithirri, ŋunha ga internetŋur dhuwal,  broadband, warrpam’ services mala, if ŋunhiyi mala available ga ŋorra, balandaw schoolŋur, balandaw djamarrkuliw’, nhä ga gumurr-dälthirr? Why can’t it be at Yolŋu communities and homeland schools napurruŋ or Yolŋu schoolsŋu, Aboriginal education centresŋu mala?


These days there are many different technologies, like internet, broadband, all the services, if those things are available for balanda in schools, for balanda children, what is so hard?  Why can’t it be at Yolŋu communities and homeland schools or in Yolŋu schools, in Aboriginal education centres?

5406 If services ŋunha balandawal ga easy gurrupan system, internet märram, then nhä ga lacking Yolŋu communityŋurdja? That’s the question ŋarraku, ga my understanding ŋarra ga ŋäŋ’thun bitjan, I need equality in education djamarrkuliw whether it be Yolŋu or balanda. Thankyou 5440.


If services are easy to give to balanda kids, like the internet system, then what is lacking in the Yolŋu communities? That’s my question. My point is that I need equality for all children in education whether they be Yolŋu or balanda. Thankyou 5440.


Ian, SAIKS 24 Feb 2008 Tape 5 G&T.wav top ^


15 Nhawi ŋarra dhu larakam nhakun, djamarrkuli’ ŋunhi walal ga ŋayatham gakal, ga rom ŋunhi walal ga märram, walalaŋgal gurrutumirriwal, ga gäma walal ga ŋunhi, wanhan mak through buŋgulkurr, manikay, walal ga milkum ŋunhi walalaŋguwuy nhawi thinkingbuy, guyaŋa walala ga ŋunhi, ga nhäma walal ga, ga djudupmaram walal ga. 


What I’m going to talk about is children, when they hold gakal (ancestral identity), and rom (culture, law), when they get them from their kinfolk, and carry it, where they go, through ceremonies, singing, they reveal their thinking, they think, and look and internalise it.

125 Ga bala walal ga actiondhu nhakun nhawi, actiondhuny dhawatmaram nhä mala walalaŋgu walal ga, nhäma walal ga ŋalapalnha, ga malthun nhä nhanŋu nhawi gakal’.


And it is by their actions, their actions that reveal what it is they have, what they are, they see the old people and the follow their gakal (identities).

145 Ga walal nhawi nhakun practise nhawi ŋunhi in real nhawi terms nhakun, ŋuruki liŋgu yurru ŋunha understandnha the meaningnha ŋunha ŋayi ga worruŋuy ŋayatham, ŋalapalyu ga ŋayatham badak.


So they put it into practice in real terms, so they understand its meaning, what it is that the old people hold, which the elders still have a hold of.

208 But malthunamirr nhawi rom balanya malthunamirr, malthun ga buŋgulwu malthun ga manikaywu, bäpurruw, ? bäpurru, yolŋu ga bäyŋuthirr, ŋayi ga mikuy bidi’yunamirr, balanya malany nhawi rom bala ŋayi ga marŋgithirr.


But by agreement, these rom (ways) are through agreement, agreement for ceremonial dance and song, for funerals, for funerals, a person dies, when they will paint themselves with red ochre, those are the rom (practices) he learns.

235 Yalalaŋuw ŋayi ga nhawi, märr ŋayi dhu nhaltjan ŋayi dhu ŋuruki gakal’wu, nhirrpan ŋayi dhu rom nhanukal rumballil. Wiripu djamarrkuli’ ŋayi ga malthun ga nhäma, nhä malany? Bala huntinggurr nhakun, huntingŋur, nhä mala nhawiny mala, girri’ ŋuruki: miyapunuw, guyaw, maranydjalkku, ga bulu walal ga marŋgithirr nhakun gapuw, wäŋa, nhaltjan ga dhärra, ŋunhi ga milkum ŋalapalyu.


To become what he is to be, what he will do for that gakal (ancestral identity), he puts that law into his body. And kids also follow and see what things?  Like in hunting, at hunting, all the different things, like associated technology for turtle, fish, stingray and then they learn about the waters, the land, how it stands, revealed by the old people.

340 Yalalaŋuwa walala dhu yalala marrtji ŋuthan, walal dhu marŋgithirr ŋuruki romgu.  Rom nhakun knowledge, ŋunha ŋayi ga, märram ŋayi dhu ga rumballilnha nhanukal.


For the future, they will grow and learn all that rom (law).  The rom (law) which is knowledge, that’s what he is, what he will take on in his body.

403 Dhäwu wiripu, dhäwu ŋunhi ŋunhi mari’muw dhäwu gäthuw, ga dhäwu ŋathiw wakuw, there’s märrma’ ŋanya nhawi, balancing ŋanya ŋunhiyi nhanŋu, märr ŋayi dhu enrich nhanŋu bäpa ga ŋändi nhawi rom, ga bulu ŋayi ga ŋorra ŋunha bala märi rom, nhä mala märiw rom, ŋanya ga nhawi nhakun dälkum ŋanya.  Yow dhiyal ŋarra dhu nhawi...  Ga ŋayi dhu Gwendhu sharing nhanŋu understanding nhakun. 


And other stories, like the father’s father story for his gäthu, and the mother’s father story for his waku, so there’s two sides, and he’s balancing them for himself, so he be enriched by both his mother’s and his father’s law, and also his mother’s mother’s rom (law), those which are holding him strong.  Okay.  That’s where I’ll…
Now Gwen can share her ideas and understanding.



Gwen top ^


510 In the Yolŋu culture, within each clan group, each tribe, we know that when a child is brought into this world, it’s already got its role, that child already has a role to play on his what ever. He gets to the stage where he grows up and the roles that what Ian said it is sort of a hand-over from their grandfathers, they had it over to the new generation it’s their ?list, it’s how it’s handed by the family and 613 by watching a child. But I see that and to know that a child will be  a leader or can be a leader I can see it how he, he follows the footstep of his father or his grandfather and the way he um does things same as what his grandfather or his father does, or copies you know,  copies what things he does, and later in the age when he’s about probably 13 or 14, he knows he’s got the role, if he knows his father has the role that he’s also included in there as a leader in that clan or tribe and people are watching him, people are watching the boy who’s growing up to be a man, and to me, I’m in the school you know, what should the schools and the education department do?  I think they should be encouraged by the community, the community links should have a strong community member to encourage the school, encourage the kids to go to school, but not only encouraging them, find ways that they can meet the two way systems. It’s now I think it’s still there’s a problem with the way the two systems are working. But they know a child has the only system he knows very well his own culture background, but while he’s struggling, he’ll struggle with the white system, white man’s system, he’ll have to struggle because he hasn’t got enough knowledge to sort of move on, so there should be strong community people should be talking about this and if it want how the student to get the level 906 same level as those European children, those have the level, there should be a push in the community, and I think you know, so for so many years education has tried. I saw that work, during those years where education was still sort of trying to find ways how to help Yolŋu children to get to the level of the other mainstream children in Australia, but as I said as a Yolŋu child he is born into a world with there’s things for him there to work with.  He’s not an ordinary child, he has got his roles and responsibilities already 1015.  Hand over to Ian.


Ian (finishing off) top ^


1020  Nhawi ŋarra gan lurrkun’ nhawi, gämurru nhakun, words nhakun, nhaltjan dhu djamarrkulin märr ga ŋayi dhu yalala manymak djäma, a--a, own community-ŋur nhakun, or yalala ŋayi dhu djäma ŋunha wiripuŋur communityŋur, ga nhaltjan nhakun napurr nhäma ŋanya ga djarr’yun ŋanya. 


Okay, I just have a few points, a few words, what needs to happen to a child so that the will later work properly, in their own community or if later the work in a different community, and how would we see them and choose them?

1111 There’s dharrwa nhakun nhawi, dhukarr, mala-djarr’yun dhu yothu ŋayi manymak ga manymak ŋayi djämawu dhiyak, ga mak yaka manymak dhiyak, so yolthu ŋayi dhu ŋunhili märr ga dhu nhäma manymak, community-w, ga yaka manymak community-w ga nhaltjan dhu ŋayi ŋunhiyi nhakun wapthun balayi, bälan, part nhakun, ŋunhi ŋayi word, nhakun bäla, nhakun footsteps or foot in place, bälayi nhakun.


There are many paths, to sort out if a child is good for work or maybe not good for this, so who is going to determine what is good for the community, or not good for the community, and how will he go over there, find a bäla (style, path, manner, role), like his ‘part’, that’s that word ‘bäla’, it’s like footsteps, or a foot in place, that bäla. 

1212 Some nhawi ŋunhi because ŋayi mari’mu-gäthu lineŋur nhakun ŋayi,  wiripu yän ŋayi ŋayi ga nhäma, djarr’yun ŋayi ga, bala ŋayi ga gadaman’nha mala rom gärri ga nhanukal. Bala ŋayi dhu djambatjthirra.


Some, because he is a descent line through his father’s father’s father.  Others may see it themselves, and choose it, and the gadaman (learned) ways enter into him.  And he will become djambatj (clever).

1240 Bala ŋayi ga beŋur mak ŋayathul nhakun bitjan nhakun bitjan ŋayi li djäma nhakun nhawi ŋayi ga djäma ŋapipiy, wo bitjan ŋayi djäma ŋayi ga gäthuy, but ŋarra dhu ŋarrakal nhawi understanding ŋarrakal romdhu, nhaltjan ŋarra dhu djäma dhuwal,  ?? nhakun ŋayi ga, what happened, what my father did, or grandfather did, ga nhanŋu leadership ŋunhili.


And so then he maybe also working is his mother’s brother,  or he is (his father’s) son, so I develop my own undersanding though my own law, how I should go about dong this, by referring back to what my father did, or grandfather did, and their leadership in their time.

1314 I had to take it into my nhawi,  my understanding, and accept it nhakun ŋarra dhu, ga deliver ŋunhiyi ŋarraku leadership, that’s where ŋayi wiripulili gäma other people in the community ??walal ga nhäma, ŋunha ŋayi ga something coming manymak, nhakun beŋur, nhanukal nhawiŋur, leadershipŋur.


I had to it (their leadership) into my understanding, and I must accept it, and deliver my own leadership.  So it is taken to other places, and the other people in the community they look, and see something emerging which is good, from him, from there, from his leadership.

1344 (talking about the points on the whiteboard) That’s where, nhawiŋur nhakun ŋuruŋur nhawi, question nhakun, ga second one nhakun ŋayi dhu manymak, now the third one-nha ŋunha covering liŋgu, ga dhuwal gam’ ŋarra dhu appoint role nhakun, where they will, nhawi what role that yothu nhawi have to be ..


Okay so we’ve had a go at the first question, and then the second question, that’s okay, now the third one. We’ve covered that.  Now the point about the role, where they will.. what role that child will have to..

1414 First take nhänhamirri dirramu ŋayi nhä nhanŋu nhawi, nhawiŋur standing in the nhawiŋur communityŋur nhä nhanŋu, ŋunha dirramu, ŋarra dhu ga try marŋgithirr ŋarra dhu dhiyak, bala ŋarra dhu märram bulu, guŋga’yunamirr rom, bala ŋarra dhu yorrnha nhawiny, djämany ŋunhi. Ga miyalkku balanya bili rom.


So first, he that boy will know his standing in the community, what is his position that boy. I would try to learn that, and I will get more useful rom (understanding), and only later will I put it into practice. 
And the same process happens for girls (who will be leaders).

1452 Yol ŋarra, nhä ŋarraku nhawi, nhä ŋarra dhu bulu guŋga’yun, yolthu dhu guŋga’yun ŋarrany? Bala ŋarra dhu yurrnha ga djäma. Yaka yän märram, ga bala marrtji djäma nhätha knowing first Yol nhe?


Who am I? What do I have?  What will I help with?  Who will help me?  And then after that I will put it into practice.  Not just get it and straight away put it to work without knowing who you really are.

1514 Ŋunhi dhu ŋarra bitjan gam, Manymak ŋarra dhuwal, Dhuwal ŋarra bäpurru, ga ŋarra dhu djäma, dhuwal ŋarra dhu malthun, ga try ŋarra dhu gurrupan community-w, community-y mak walal dhu yaka nhawi accept ŋunhiyi. 1538 Mak walal dhu accept ŋunha bala romŋur, ga mak yaka at the community levelŋur outside beŋur romŋur.


But if I were to say, “I am ok, I am such and such a clan, and I’m going to work, I will follow this way of behaving, and will I try to give to the community”, maybe the community will not accept it.  They might accept it in the rom (ceremonial context), but maybe not at the community (council) level, outside the rom (ceremony).

1546 Ya balanya, ga balanyay malany nhä mak nhakun ŋayi, ga come to that nhawi next one (question) nhakun, “Yolthu dhu guŋga’yun ŋanya, ŋuthanmaram ŋunhili?” Ŋunhili mala nhakun gurrutu galki bäpawal sideŋur ga ŋändiwal sideŋur, yolthu dhu ŋayi guŋga’yun. Märi dhu goŋ-warryun nhakun, goŋ-djarryun ŋayi dhu ‘Manymak ŋarra dhu märram dhuwal gutharra ŋarra dhu marŋgikum nhawi?’ Ŋayi dhu ŋäŋ’thun muka bäpa’nhany, marŋgikum, ga ŋändiny märŋgikum, ŋathi gurrutun yan mala,


So that’s what I think about that.  So we come to the next question, “Who will help him, to grow him up?”  They’re there, his close kin on his father’s side and his mother’s side, anyone will help him. His märi will lead him, reach out her hand, “Is it okay if I take my grandchild and teach her?” they’ll ask the father, let him know, let the mother know, grandfather – all kinfolk,

1633 Märr ga ŋayi dhu yuwalk yän ŋayi dhu rom nhawi marŋgithirri, ga märram ŋayi dhu, strong ŋayi nhakun ŋunhili, nhawi nhakun rom dhu ga ŋorra ŋunhili märr ŋayi dhu yuwalk yän milkum nhä, ŋayi ga believe. Yow, liŋgun muka. 1710


So he’ll truly learn the rom (way), and take it,  and become strong there, the rom (law) will lie there, so he will truly reveal what – he believes. Yes, that’s it.


Three main points ran through the entire discussion.

First: Giftedness and talentedness in the Yolŋu world are associated with leadership. People do not have gifts by themselves or for themselves.

Second: Young people are born with their gifts and talents, derived from their embodiment of ancestral connections. The Yolŋu word for this embodiment is gakal.

Third: Giftedness is neither a head thing (mulkurr) or a guts thing (ŋayaŋu) but an effect of the two coming together.

What follows is an elaboration of those points, followed by a summary of discussion of the key signs of Yolŋu giftedness, of what the Yolŋu family does about it, and what that all means for schooling.

Gakal and Leadership

Gotha, the most senior of all the participants, began the discussion with the point that all children have gakal, or a potential to embody gakal, but not all children are going to be leaders. Some children are born leaders, usually as the firstborn to a particular mother and father which means they are very likely to be required to take on leadership – both ceremonial and economic. Others who are not born in that position may be in a position to achieve leadership – they work for it and earn it. And then some are chosen by elders to be leaders – because of the way they behave, and because of the needs of the group (3756). The leader is expected to find a path, not only for himself, but for his family and for the wider community (4528).

Lawurrpa used the word munhdhurr (‘gift’) when talking about giftedness; the notion of inheritance is fundamental to the understanding of gakal. Giftedness is gakal (3450) The Yolŋu child is ‘not an ordinary child, he has got his roles and responsibilities already. He is born into a world where there’s things there to help him work with’ (-906). He is born with a role (308, 1636, -510,-906, -1344), what he learns is his own truth (4100), and this goes for girls as well as for boys (-1414).

So the gifted children receive the gift of gakal from their ancestors and ‘carry it through dancing and singing’ (-15). A future leader is given a good example by his family, and learns ‘who he is, where he comes from, how he connects’ (3919). Not only his father’s line, but all the others as well, especially his mother’s – all in balance (-403, -1546). By age 3 or 4 he knows where he fits in (957) getting guidance from everyone (1240).

Land and family both make their contributions (3919), while the young person is learning ways of getting a living off the land (4122), ‘learning law, being disciplined, learning gakal, hunting, providing meat, strategising, finding hidden things, creeping and stalking, through his gakal’ (4751).

Gakal finds an important place in ceremonials, the funerals, body paintings (-208), the foundations of Yolŋu life (2102). He ‘puts that gakal into his body not only through ceremony and ancestral song, but hunting, and using technology shown to him by elders’ (-235). We see how he invests his identity (balyunmirr) in various rocks, shellfish, waters, even octopus (3620). His leadership emerges from that (4122).

Ŋayaŋu and mulkurr

The notion of ŋayaŋu kept coming up in discussions of the embodiment of gakal. In Yolŋu dictionaries ŋayaŋu is translated as ‘the seat of the emotions’. English speakers talk about bringing the head and the heart together, Yolŋu speak of being head and ŋayaŋu together (3606). “A Yolŋu grows up, what we call in Yolŋu a ŋayaŋu how to stay and be real close to his family, and his dislikes and likes and what he would like to do. That is already within him’ (1210). ‘Children already have knowledge, and as they grow up the learning stream is flowing, always open to receive the new, the mulkurr (head) and the ŋayaŋu (spirit) need to come together as one (4300, 3552), as one body (4554).

This is something which gifted children actively take upon themsleves, ‘the knowledge they receive, they put that it into their body’ (-340), ‘he will become strong in the law, and take it, and it will lie in him’ (-1633).

Problems were identified with the contemporary development of Yolŋu giftedness: Living in large communities there are many other children and adults all around the growing child. This is confusing. Learning gakal properly requires being around the immediate family and extended kin (1302). The second problem is to do with language. Your language tells you who you are, and if a child grows up not speaking his ancestral language properly, they can’t grow properly into gakal. Children on large communities are starting to speak a common language, they are not learning their own (422).

How do Yolŋu recognise gifted and talented children?

When asked about how elders identify gifted and talented children, Dhäŋgal told a story: In the old days when boys were to go through their initiation ceremony, they were painted with ancestral designs on their chest: ‘their own traditional paintings, the land where they belong to, or what creatures their totem is. If a painting peeled off the boy’s body, that boy was never chosen to be a leader, because the painting really told the elders how the boy was going to grow up and do other things. And to the boy whose body painting wasn’t peeled, that was the leader for the future’ (100). This story requires some explanation. After being painted, the boys would have to wait several days before their ceremony. They would be required to sit quietly and solemnly, listening to the ancestral singing, and watching the preparations. Some boys may be prone to wriggling and playing around a bit, and their paint work inevitably gets messed up a bit. It is not difficult to tell after a few days, which boys are able to sit quietly and respectfully, simply by inspecting the condition of the carefully painted sacred images on their chests.

This story points to quite a different set of signs of giftedness in Yolŋu children. They must be retiring and given to quiet respectfulness (rum’rummirr 5127), sit quietly with their role models (14), listening to the old people (4028), listening with a peaceful spirit (3529), be quietly spoken (3576) ‘taking part in his own future’ (4028). It’s not only what he does, but ‘how he sits’ (1441). They are helpful (räl-wandirri 3529), and work hard (murruy’murruyyun 1558), learning as they go without questioning the old people (5156), for fear of interrupting the attainment of gakal (5127).

They feed their own spirits (birrimbirr) so that their head and their ŋayaŋu sit well together (3552). They start to reveal their gakal, and their investments in their totems (3919).

They look after their mother’s business as well as their own (like a djuŋgaya), and see the path ahead and any strange things which might come crawling in (4002).

They come to an age when they start to look at themselves, who they are, where they stand and they start making decisions for themselves (4404). They know they have a role when they’re about 13 or 14 (-613). They begin putting it into practice ‘in real terms’ while the elders still hold it (-145). They may be capable of leadership but they are careful not to exercise it. They wait, and watch, and later they put it into practice. Girls too. (-1414)

What does the family do?

The family wants to hand over leadership to the new generation after they have been watching the child (-613). They help the young child on the pathway (-125), bring him to his gakal (1843), and admonish him mildly but clearly (raypirri’ 2010, 2042, 3529) for their gift is their gakal (4122).

If we are able to ensure the good development of the child, we are confident that we can send them to a good place of balanda education. (1920) Gotha actually uses CDU as an example. Carried by their gakal, they enter the white man’s education fearlessly (marrparaŋ 3659) because they have already learnt the Yolŋu side.

The School

Our kids are already pretty smart on both sides but the education department is confused and doesn’t really know what to do (4730). Some teachers don’t even realise that Yolŋu kids have gakal, they assume that they’re not already very smart (djambatj 3901). We have our own doctors and lawyers and you need to learn from us (5024). The kids comes from the Yolŋu world and just have to survive in the Balanda world of school (4838). It’s an obstacle and the balanda think the Yolŋu kid stupid, but maybe he’s actually quite smart, and the problem is that the two pedagogies are just missing each other (4905).

The balanda see quite different signs of giftedness (1738). the balanda way says: ‘Ask many questions, and ask in order to learn. Children should ask old people.” But if they were doing it the Yolŋu way, it’s not good for him to ask questions (5156). Our gifted children are not competitive, (835) they help and encourage each other ‘even though the teacher doesn’t know. Those children are talented and gifted’ (952). ‘Showing a bit of leadership in the classroom, and helping others understand what the teacher has given the kids to do, showing responsibility of helping others who are slow. That’s the kind of leader that will be in the future for the Yolŋu’ (820).

We see our kids in school and we support them learning both sides, that’s how a leader emerges (1949). So we can’t expect the teachers to support our gifted children alone, we need to help them, work for them, and teach them (2027). If we help both the old people and the people at the school, we can work together to identify those who have gifts and gakal (4205). We have our own ways of learning, and so do the children, that’s why we must all help each other (4235). Education starts with knowing who you are and where you belong (3716), so the schools and education department need to find how to join up with Yolŋu pathways (3740). So you in the department see kids who are clever at maths, and English, but we see children’s quiet ŋayaŋu, gently spoken, who know their kinfolk, patient, good listener, they are the leaders in our way of thinking, leaders whom we choose, or born leaders (3756). We need to join up with the school education people, and help to raise those children up, so they will later lead they own people, later, when we here are all passed away (3834).



Aboriginal Perspectives On Gifted Children pdf icon19/09/10 Michael Christie

A complete transcription and translation of interview/statement videos pdf icon

Dhäŋgal and Lawurrpa talking about Yolngu perspectives of Gifted and Talented children

Dhäŋgal Interview

Lawurrpa Interview


Key Concepts relating to Gifted and talented children

bäla habitual way of behaving, favourite place
balyunmirr a reflexive verb meaning to invest oneself in a 'totemic' connection, that is a particular phenomenon which has been left by the ancestors for your particular clan group. The examples which Gotha gives are 'sacred rock', shellfish, water, octopus'. Places in which people balyunmirr are called riŋgitj.
birrimbirr one's spirit (as opposed to ŋayaŋu which relates more to the body)
djambatj an adjective describing a good hunter, often used to denote cleverness, especially in terms of mulkurr-djambatj – clever head, mel-djambatj – eyes like a hawk.
djuŋgaya one who looks after and supervises aspects of his mothers' clans' business.
gadaman clever, quick witted.
gakal the behaviour of a person in a style which reproduces ancestral connections, also translated as role, style, manner. The point of gakal is that one doesn't make up one's own style of behaviour, but one takes it on through the process of balyunmirr, and by brining ŋayaŋu and mulkurr together.
marrparaŋ brave, fearless
mulkurr head and by extension, mind.
munhdhurr gift
murruy'murruyyun exert great effort
ŋayaŋu the seat of the emotions – guts, feelings. If a Yolŋu is ŋayaŋumirr (literally 'having ŋayaŋu') we might say ‘their heart is in the right place'. They are thoughtful, sympathetic, acting with good faith.
raypirri admonishment to young people, firmly and quietly to make clear the nature and reasons for acceptable behaviour.
riŋgitj significant ancestral places in which identities are invested
rum'rum generally refers to avoidance behaviour for particular kin, like a man's mother-in-law, but well behaved children are expected to be rum'rum – that is to keep a low profile, not to be noisy, not to insinuate yourself into a position.