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Published onOct 12, 2020


Phone & Spear is an invitation to participate in a Yolŋu art of connection.

Buku-manapanmirr means joining together. When Yolŋu use this term they point to the potential for people to come together without denying the differences that define us. Phone & Spear is an experiment with giving form to this generous Yolŋu capacity for creating mutuality and inclusion, while still allowing for distinctive, and sometimes divergent, points of view. In the design we overtly acknowledge that each member of Miyarrka Media makes sense of the world from our own perspective, according to age, experience and background. Seven voices, assembled side-by-side, marked by different colours, combine here to form a commentary that deliberately refracts our various points of view, allowing us to speak individually—and together. While this style and structure may appear confusing at first, we hope that as you turn the pages you will become attuned to not only to the individual voices, but to the rhythms, patterns and orientations that hold them together.

Language provides another way to demonstrate the generative social potential of joining things together. As my Yolŋu colleagues made clear from the start, this is a work of anthropology, and as such is primarily directed at balanda. They therefore saw no reason to produce a fully bilingual text. Nonetheless, we use many Yolŋu terms within the text, sometimes without translation. In doing so we follow Yolŋu linguistic conventions. When Yolŋu speak with non-Aboriginal people in English, they often include Yolŋu terms, adjusting the level of complexity according to how much the person already understands of their language and life. I have found this code-switching convention an extremely effective way to learn and so we decided to adopt it here when transcribing and translating the recorded discussions from which the book has been crafted. The glossary will help if you get lost.


Have a look at the cycad palm standing beside our group bitja below. That’s my märi, it belongs to the land, stories and songs of my mother’s mother clan, the Wangurri people. Märi is the boss for ceremony and everything, really. Märi is our backbone. That’s how it is for us. That’s gurruṯu, what you call family or kinship.

We dedicated the book to my beloved wife who passed away a few years back, Fiona Yangathu. She called that cycad ŋäṉḏi because she had a Wangurri mother. Putting that photo and her name side-by-side here shows another relationship that is important for Yolŋu, one we call yothu-yindi [child-mother]. What I’m telling you is that Yolŋu life is complicated. It has deep patterns and meanings. It has many layers, many riches and responsibilities. You have to know how to look at things, to see those connections and feel them too. That’s why we worked hard to make this book, so that you can see, you can feel and you can know.

Together with us. Buku-manapanmirr.

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