The battle for Sea Country legal rights

Acknowledgement 

The Australian National Maritime Museum acknowledges the Yolngu people as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters of North-East Arnhem Land. We pay our respects to them and their elders both past and present.

The Yirrkala bark paintings are held in the ANMM collection and were purchased with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery.

Cultural Warning

The Museum would like to advise visitors that this content may contain the names and artwork, by deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Members of the Northern Land Council flew into the homeland centre of Yilpara to commence the Blue Mud Bay legal case hearing. Image courtesy Northern Land Council.

Members of the Northern Land Council flew into the homeland centre of Yilpara to commence the Blue Mud Bay legal case hearing. Image courtesy Northern Land Council.

A tireless fight

30 July 2018 marks ten years since the landmark High Court decision that granted sea country legal rights to the Yolŋu people of the Northern Territory. The exhibition Gapu-Monuk Saltwater: Journey to Sea Country centres around 40 Yirrkala bark paintings from the Saltwater Collection, created by the Yolŋu artists who petitioned for sea rights by painting their Saltwater Countries onto bark and revealed sacred patterns or designs, known as Miny’tji, as evidence of their connection to Blue Mud Bay. This legal fight was just one small part of a much richer Indigenous history and relationship to the sea.

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Remembering Mabo

A scene from the <em>Remembering Mabo</em> rooftop projection showing Australia’s numerous First Nations and their many languages. Image: ANMM.

A scene from the Remembering Mabo rooftop projection showing Australia’s numerous First Nations and their many languages. Image: ANMM.

In 1992 the landscape of modern Australian politics and society was unsettled by a ground-breaking High Court case that ruled against the idea that before the Europeans arrived Australia was terra nullius (or ‘nobody’s land’). The decision led to the native title Act of 1993, which transformed the nature of the long struggle by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for the recognition of their land and ultimately, sea rights.

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Canoe Cultures – Nawi 2017 Travelling Our Waters

Nawi (Sydney tied-bark canoe) with fire at Nawi 2012. Photograph Andrew Frolows

On 9 November the museum will host the second national conference on Indigenous watercraft. Nawi 2017  – Travelling Our Waters brings together traditional watercraft builders, community members, historians, students and others to share knowledge and culture about canoes and all the other incredible and diverse watercraft made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The one day symposium will feature talks by people from the Kimberley, Torres Strait Islands, Arnhem Land and Tasmania. The presentations are diverse. Djambawa Marawili AM will present on the story of the Blue Mud Bay Sea Rights Case. Jimmy Thaiday and Lynette Griffiths will talk about Ghost Nets in art. There will be talks about the heroic Yarri and Jacky who rescued dozens of people from the 1852 Gundagai floods in bark canoes, and an important focus on youth and Indigenous watercraft.

Uncle Moogy in his yuki at Nawi 2012. Photograph Andrew Frolows

There will also be traditional bark canoes being constructed through the day and an opportunity to see the Gapu-Monuk Saltwater- Journey to Sea Country exhibition, as well as a host of other activities and displays about the maritime history and cultures of Indigenous Australia.

Registration details for this wonderful opportunity to learn about nawi tied-bark canoes, rolled bark ninghers, bardi rafts and more can be found here. You can view the full program here. Hurry – there are limited places and a special offer to attend the opening night of Gapu-Monuk on 8 November.

Detail from Mudhaw Warul (Sheltered Turtles Behind the Reef) © Billy Missi