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Published onOct 12, 2020


If you reach into your pocket and pull out your phone, what you are holding in your hand is a nyumikiny [small] thing. It’s just a tiny thing, but it’s bringing big changes. Just a few years ago no one had a mobile phone. It’s a new technology and nowadays we can’t leave them alone. They are everywhere in the funeral ground, ceremony ground, hunting, fishing, shopping, everywhere. People are making video calls, watching YouTube, doing Facebook, sending text messages, searching for second hand motikas, doing phone banking, and Centrelink djäma—all with their phone.

These days we keep the phones close to our bodies. Always, everywhere, together. Any phone: flat ones, any type.

In the old days Yolŋu went everywhere with their spears. Like my father, up until the 60s or 70s, he always had his spear with him. He used it for hunting, to get food for the family. He used it to protect himself and to show others that he was a man with law and ceremony and connections to the land and environment. These days every Yolŋu has a phone. Men, women, kids too.

I don’t know what will happen in the future for the generations that will follow. I know it’s going to be fast, fast, fast. It must be better for their lives, because they will be sitting in the office with everything. You can’t run away. Kids will grow up fast with that technology. They’ll be in the office, flying on the plane. Even they might fly over to the moon. Because they’re catching onto this technology really fast. That’s the future. Mobile phones. Computer world. Internet. Google. Kids are learning this fast. Doesn’t matter if they’re Yolŋu or Japanese.

Is this yuṯa [new] technology pulling them away from the wäŋa, the land of their ancestors? I don’t know.

One thing I do know is that Yolŋu can use their phones to do manymak [good] things for their family and their future. We know how to use mobile phone technologies in ways that reach further than any Telstra tower. Because sometimes you need to forget about the signal, forget about recharge and concentrate on who you are and where you belong. These days Yolŋu can use the phone to connect us to the maḏayin [sacred objects], the wäŋa, the old people, with our sacred patterns and our identity.1

This means that there many manymak (good) reasons to hold onto our phones, to keep them in our pockets and our bags, even if sometimes all those calls and messages, beeping, beeping, beeping makes you want to throw your phone away. Or smash your SIM card with a rock.

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Kayleen Djingadjingawuy Waṉambi 2016

This is what I look like on the inside—and this is what it looks like inside of the land. We are the same. I am showing myself in a Yolŋu way.

That fire makes my land a dangerous place. Ziggy Gurrumuru, is what we call it because the knife comes out of gurtha, out of the fire. My name comes from this place where the dreaming and the land talks. Gurrumuru. My land is hot, powerful. It’s been there for a long time. The yiki [knife] comes from that gurtha [fire].

Each clan has its own gamunuŋgu [clay, paint, colours, sacred design] from the land. We’ve got miny’tji [patterns] in our rumbal [body]. Because we’ve got maḏayin [sacred designs and objects] and identity. You have to show yourself with your body, who you are, your body, your identity … and people will see and straight away know who you are. That gamunuŋgu gives out the knowledge and wisdom.

My gamunuŋgu comes, I believe, from my Grandfather’s body, and the land itself. It reflects from the water, and the land, and the ancestors. There might be different dhäwu, different stories, about this that comes from different Yolŋu, but what I believe is that these patterns come from the bottom of the earth, soil, and they hold us firm.


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