Day 72. Darwin to Gapuwiyak, in Arnhem Land

Aaah up in the fives, this was much worse than it sounds as a few days ago we were in WA which is 2 hours behind so it was almost like getting up in threes. To make it more annoying on takeoff our flight hit a bat or a bird so we had to do a U-turn and have the engines checked out. Fortunately, nothing was wrong with the engine, not so sure about the bat or bird, so take two and after an hours flight we landed in Nhulunbuy (also known as Gove) Nhulunbuy is on the north east tip of Arnhem Land from there it was a 3 hour drive on dirt roads to Gapuwiyak. Gapuwiyak means “brackish water” (Gapu water – Wiyak salty), and is located on the shores of Lake Evella. It has a population of less than 1000 which is mainly Yolngu (>95%) and the local language is Djambarrpuyngu (a dialect of Yolngu Matha). Access to Arnhem Land is strictly permit only and normally only accessible on expensive tours, to those working and volunteers. We fall into the last group.

72 Gapu town small

This week Gapuwiyak is hosting Arnhem Sports, which is sort of like district sports, but more about that later. We ended up here because Tom had met Matt, one of the teachers when he brought a basketball team down to Melbourne for a competition last year. Tom helped with some physio while they were down, conversations happened and with the help of the SOS Foundation here we are.

We settled in to our home for the week, a relatively luxurious 2-bedroom house, well compared with a camper trailer and some of the other houses around. Matt took us on a driving tour of town; it is not that big we could have walked around it. All the local kids ran up to the troopie (troop carrier) yelling out to us “hi, what’s your name?” which we were to get constantly over the next week. They wanted to shake our hands or give us high fives. I was even given a baby blue winged kingfisher, which they told me I could keep. After a bit of convincing the bird was returned. Sam’s quote of the day was “I like this place. It feels like I am famous. Everyone wants to high five me” Adam one of the teachers said he still feels like that and he has been here for 3 years.

We went to dinner that night at Matt, Emily (his wife) and Ollie (their 2-year-old son) house along with quite a few of the teachers and other staff of the school. All up, the school employs about 80 staff for 270 enrolled students. These include teachers, teacher’s helpers, canteen, grounds men, security, cultural liaison and various other roles.

A bit more history on Gappuwiyak.

Aboriginal people have inhabited this region for 40,000 years. White man (or as the locals call us Balanda) have only been around significantly since the late 1960s. The Gapuwiyak community was established by Methodist missionaries to supply timber for missions in the region. Timber workers came from the surrounding homelands of Burrum, Raymangirr, Bunhanura and Balma, and from Galiwin’ku.

In the 1970s, the mission ended and Gapuwiyak became Aboriginal land under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. It is a dry community; I think the elders decided to make it dry well before ‘the intervention’. Talking to a few different people we have encountered we have been told that it is an incredibly well functioning community with good school attendance, very low crime and a really safe feeling.

This entry was posted in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Top End. Bookmark the permalink.