Julia Gillard & Galarrwuy Yunupingu. Yirrkala, June 2011

For mine those words about the PM’s heritage – and that of the hundreds of locals before her last week at Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem land – was perhaps the least effective sentence of her speech on that day.

I’d seen an earlier version of that speech released through her press office but what she delivered has obviously had some serious work betwixt first draft and delivery.

Here are some parts – and some pictures from the day – that I like.

Gumatj clan dancers

Friends. We meet here, your country. We meet here, on Australian soil, our country.

And we come together in this place, at this time, to celebrate a moment uniquely yours, uniquely Australian.

Rirratjingu dancer.
Rirratjingu dancer.

We celebrate an agreement between the traditional owners of this land and a mining giant. We celebrate jobs and investment for the region. We celebrate the long-term projects and investments which will benefit the indigenous community living in north-east Arnhem Land.

We celebrate the new leases for community use of buildings and the new lots at Nhulunbuy for traditional owner-funded construction projects, for medical facilities, shops and housing. We celebrate the contracting opportunities for traditional owner entities and employment opportunities for Yolngu people across the region. This is an agreement to be proud of because it heralds a better future which will be built together.

And today I am proud to be here with you.

Bakamumu Marika of the Rirratjingu clan and grandson

Here with Bakamumu Marika, a senior traditional owner of the Yirrkala community and a descendant of Roy Marika, champion of the 1963 bark petition.

Here with Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who has reminded the nation that when the first mining agreement was signed in Eastern Arnhem Land:

“This tall, thin welfare man climbed on the 44-gallon drum and announced our future to us.”

Wityana Marika. Performer with Yothu Yindi & Rirratjingu elder.

Our shared future is no longer something for a Protector of Aborigines or a Prime Minister of Australia to announce. Our shared future must be shaped by us together.

In making your agreement you did not submit to a distant decision at a cabinet table or in a board room.

Instead you came together, as people who shared a goal.

Djuwalpi Marika -Rirratjingu clan leader

Respect is the visible sign of the invisible imaginings we share.

An agreement struck between a mining company and traditional owners, a bark petition addressed from one Australian people to the nation as a whole, an act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia.

I believe that in the coming years our nation can shape a shared future in which weco-operate to end the disadvantage in the lives of our people and mark that co-operation in the life of our nation with a spirit of respect.

A spirit of respect that understands that as the first Australians learned to live on this land they also learned to imagine themselves in it, to draw it, to sing it, to dance it, to remember it.

Dr. Gawirrin Gumana, a leader of the Dhalwangu clan

To learn its law.

And that the generations of Australians who followed, drawn here through centuries from all over the world, learned not just to live here but to imagine themselves here as well in pictures and poems and stories and song.

And in law.

Over time respect grew and urged us on.

Northern Land Council Chairman Wali Wunungmurra was Master of Ceremonies on the day

To the 1967 Referendum which demonstrated our faith in the equal human dignity of all. To land rights and native title which demonstrated our knowledge of the fact of dispossession in our law of land. To the National Apology which demonstrated our sorrow for the history of post-contact mistreatment.

And now it urges us on to shape a future of opportunity and responsibility together.

It urges us on to mark our respect for each other: from our daily personal dealings, to the design of national policy, to recognition in our constitution.

Recognising the unique and special place of the first Australians in the Australian Constitution can be a wonderful national goal.

Northern Land Council staff and Full Council representatives

An opportunity to recognise, in the founding document of our nationhood, our shared pride in being Australian and our shared pride in Australia’s continuing Indigenous culture.

While before every step our democratic debates have been real and robust and in every sense Australian … after every step our national consensus has been strengthened.

These are not steps anyone would now unmake.

Rirratjingu dancer.
Rirratjingu dancer.

So when that happens, when the first Australians take their place in the first document of all Australians, it will be an uplifting, uniting moment for our nation a day of great national pride, a day of shared respect.

As we share this day of celebration, we look towards that day.

And we dedicate ourselves to a journey of shared effort to better lives, to achieve reconciliation, to show respect.

Mawalan 2 Marika. Regarded as the pre-eminent male custodian of Rirratjingu law.

We are the custodians of the land we share … of the values we cherish … of the children who rely on us.

We are the oldest living culture joined with the many diverse cultures of our Australia.

We are Welsh-born women and Arnhem-born men.



Julia Gillard, Prime Minister
Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Gumatj clan leader.

Bob Gosford works for the Northern Land Council in Darwin.

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