Joe Dhamanydji and fellow Yolŋu cultural leaders from Milingimbi, Ramingining and Yirrkala worked with University of Sydney museum staff from 2016 through 2021 to co-curate, Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: Welcome to the Yolŋu foundations, an exhibition of historical and contemporary artworks. The below statement was written by Joe Dhamanydji in late 2020 and published in the exhibition catalogue, Djalkiri: Yolŋu art, collaborations and collections.*    


Ga ŋunhilidhi ŋäthili baman’, dhiyal wäŋaŋur yäkuŋur Yurrwi, Miliŋinbi, ŋunhi Yolŋu’yolŋu mala gan nhinan, ŋunhi miriŋumirriy romdhu walal gan barrtjunmin dhiyal wäŋaŋur. Ŋunhi walal gan barrtjunminany ŋayi gan Yolŋu’yolŋu mala märraŋal dhuwalidhi bayarra’ rom. Baman’birr ŋayi gan ŋorran bäy ḻakaranhamirr rom, ŋunhi Yolŋu mala marŋgi ŋunhi dhiyak romgu, yäku Makarraṯaw. Dharpunhamirr rom ŋunhi gan ŋorran dhuwalidhi bäyarra’mirr rom.

Back then in the olden days, here at this place called Yurrwi, Milingimbi, where Yolŋu clans were living, the clans were at war, spearing each other. At this time when they were spearing each other, the Yolŋu clans were shown a way to make peace. Since time immemorial there was a practice of forgiveness. The Yolŋu groups knew of this practice. It was called Makarraṯa[1]. This practice of forgiveness was a spearing ritual.

Ga ŋunhilidhi gan nhinan worruŋu maṉḏany yäku Tom Djäwa ga Harry Makarrwaḻa, ŋunhi maṉḏa gan Yolŋu’yolŋuw malaw dharray maṉḏa märi’manydji. Ga maṉḏa gan djäma Yolŋu’yolŋuw malaw. Rom dhuwalidhi maṉḏa gan ŋayathaŋal djuy’yunamirr rom ga djuy’yurr mäṉḏa gan Yolŋu’yolŋuny mala wäŋalil. Ga ŋunhilidhi maṉḏa gan Yolŋu’yolŋuny mala gan ŋal’maraŋal balayi lipalipalil bala marrtjinan wiripulilnha wäŋalil.

At this time there were two old men living here, called Tom Djäwa and Harry Makarrwaḻa, who were looking after the Yolŋu clans. These two were related to each other as ri-gutharra (grandparent-grandchild in the female line). And these two were working for the Yolŋu clans. They had rights to send Yolŋu clans away, and they sent some Yolŋu clans elsewhere. They put the clanspeople into dugout canoes and they went off to other places.

Manymak. Dhiyalidhi museumŋur walal dhu nhäma ŋunhiyidhi dhukarr ŋunhi Makarraṯaw dhukarr, ŋunhi Yolŋu’yolŋu ŋunhi ŋurru-ḏawalaŋu malaŋuw walal dhu gärri ŋurruŋu mala, ŋunhalatjandhi entrance-kurr. Ga ŋunhi walal dhu Yolŋu’yolŋu mala gärri bala nhäman ḻarrakitj mala. Ga ŋunhiyidhi ga dhäwu ŋorra ŋurukiyidhi ḻarrakitjgu mala ŋunhi Birrinymal, Wuḏuwal, Gaḻirrimun’, Ŋaritjpal, ga bulu dhaŋaŋ mirithirr bundurr mala ga bäpurru. Ŋunhi dhuwalidhi rom nhakun dhiyakidhi bundurrgu malaŋuw. Dhuwalidhi ŋunhi yuwalkdja dhiyakidhi nhanŋuwuy rom.

Alright. Here at the museum, they will see a pathway, the way of the Makarraṯa law, [of] the old leaders. The people will enter through that passage. And when the people go in they will see a collection of memorial poles. And in these memorial poles lies the story of the sacred remains of the Gupapuyŋu, Marraŋu, Wangurri, Djambarrpuyŋu and many many other families and clans. That is the the law for these families. This is the truth about this Makarraṯa law.

Ga ŋunhilidhi maṉḏa gan nhinan gumurr-watjarr’yunamirr, Tom Djäwa ga Harry Makarrwaḻa, ŋunhi maṉḏa gan Yolŋuny walŋakuŋal ga bulu maṉḏa gan Yolŋu’yolŋuny mala yänguŋal lipalipay. Ga dhuwalidhi ŋunhi lipalipa ga dhärra museumŋur. Balanyaray walal gan marrtjin wäŋalil ga wäŋalil, ga manymak. Balanya ŋunhi lipalipany ŋunhi dhärra ga dhiyalidhi museumŋur balanya nhakun dhuwaliyidhi. Ga ŋunhilidhi lipalipa mala gan dhärran, ŋuruŋidhi lipalipay Yolŋu’yolŋu mala walal gan marrtjinany.

And there they were living, those two peace-makers, Tom Djäwa and Harry Makarrwaḻa, who saved the people and also sent people away in canoes. And here in this exhibition there is a dugout canoe. In this kind of canoe they travelled to the different places. Alright. A canoe of this sort is standing here in the museum, just like the ones they travelled in. Those were the canoes they had, those are what the Yolŋu clans travelled in.

Beŋur lipalipaŋur, bala walalnydja dhu nhäman gamunuŋguny’ mala ŋunhi gorrunhawuynha, ga buludhi walal dhu nhäma Baṉumbirrnha ŋunhi dhärra ga dhiyalidhi museumŋura. Balanya ŋunhi rom dhiyak Makarraṯaw. Makarraṯa gulyurrnha, bala walal marrtjinany wäŋalil ga wäŋalil. Bilin.

After the canoe, they will see the paintings hanging up, and also they will see the Baṉumbirr, (Morning Star Pole) standing here in the museum. This is how it was in the olden days, Makarraṯa time. The Makarraṯa finished, and they travelled to their homelands. That’s it.

– Joe Dhamanydji, 2020

Translation by Joe Dhamanydji and Salome Harris


[1] Joe stresses that the Makarraṯa wasn’t a capital punishment, it was a spearing through the leg, after which everything was forgiven.

* Djalkiri: Yolŋu art, collaborations and collections is available from Sydney University Press 
More information about the Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: Welcome to the Yolŋu foundations exhibition is available via the Chau Chak Wing Museum website 


Top; Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu foundations exhibtion, Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney.
Bottom left to right; Joe Dhamanydji working with linguist Salome Harris via zoom, 2020
Tom Djäwa, circa 1978
Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu foundations exhibtion, Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney.
Yolŋu performing bungul at the Markarrata ground where ḻarrakitj by artists including; Margaret Rarru, Ruth Nalmakarra, Joe Dhamanydji and Helen Ganalmirriwuy were displayed during the 5 day event, Yurrwi, 2016.
Gululu dhuwala djalkiri: welcome to the Yolŋu foundations exhibtion, Chau Chak Wing Museum, University of Sydney.
Joe Dhamanydji with his Manburi Birrinymal ḻarrakitj (Gupapuyŋu memorial pole), Yurrwi, 2018.
‘Peace making ceremony – warriors waiting for opposing force to arrive. Photo taken by W.L Warner between 1927-29. © Macleay Collections, HP99.1.681.
Joe Dhamanydji and Raymond Bulambula in the Sydney University museum store, 2018. During consult in Sydney with museum staff. Joe is holding artwork by Joe Djembaŋu, Guku, Yirritja native honey c.1985. PW1985.21


Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation

The Milingimbi Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation is a community owned Art Centre that maintains an important position in the national art and cultural arena. Milingimbi Art and Culture has a long history of producing works steeped in active cultural practice such as barks, ceremonial poles, carvings and weavings. Works from Milingimbi are integral to important collections in many National and International institutions.


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