Yilpara (Baniyala) is an Aboriginal homeland community in North East Arnhem Land working to become a thriving, self-sufficient and sustainable community with a real economy.
Report by Elizabeth Henderson
Director, Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce
In August 2013, Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce Directors Warren Mundine and Elizabeth Henderson visited Yilpara (Baniyala) in North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.
As in many parts of Australia, during 1900s the Yolngu people were moved away from their traditional clan lands to live on missions, such as the Yirrkala mission which was established in the 1930s. The 1970s saw the emergence of the Yolngu ‘Homelands” movement, with clans moving back to their original homelands to live either permanently or periodically. Today there are about 10,000 Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory living in about 500 homeland settlements.Yilpara is situated on Blue Mud Bay on the Gulf of Carpentaria and is home to the Madarrpa clan of the Yolngu people.
Yilpara was re-settled in the early 1970s by the traditional clan landowners. It is now a community with a permanent population of around 150 people, which swells at different times throughout the year in line with seasonal and ceremonial occasions.
There are many advantages to life on the homelands for Aboriginal people. Clan based communities provide a social framework through family and cultural traditions. They do not experience the clan related disputes that can exist in former mission towns where many different clans have been herded together to live. Health studies have shown lower morbidity and mortality and other improved health outcomes in homelands communities compared to centralised communities.
Yilpara does not suffer from the social dysfunction that pervades many remote Indigenous communities across Australia. It is a dry community and violence and other anti-social behaviour is not tolerated.
There are also many challenges that come with life on the homelands.
Like most homeland communities, Yilpara is extremely remote. The nearest town is Nhulunbuy which has a population of about 4000 people and is 200km away – 3 hours by 4WD on unsealed roads or around 40 minutes by charter flight. Nhulunbuy in turn is 90 minutes from Darwin and about 2 hours from Cairns by commercial flight.
Service provision to such a remote community is expensive and difficult and for many years Yilpara had inadequate or non-existent delivery of essential services including utilities, education, health and dental and housing.
Madarrpa clan leader Djambawa Marawili AM has worked to achieve major improvements to the living conditions and outlook for Yilpara and there is a great deal of hope and optimism for Yilpara’s future as a thriving community. In recent years it has had the assistance of the Rotary Club of Sydney Cove and the Indigenous Community Benevolent Fund. Yilpara is now relatively well serviced with basic utilities, obtaining a reliable water supply in 2001 and electricity in 2004. Its old satellite dish was replaced by a new dish installed by the National Broadband Network on the day of the Chamber’s visit. There is now access to on-site health and dental services with the establishment of a health centre in 2007.
Two of the biggest challenges have been education and housing.
One of Yilpara’s greatest achievements in the past 8 years has been the establishment of a fully operational school with full time teachers who live on the community.
Previously the community was serviced by a ‘Homeland Learning Centre’ operated by the Northern Territory Department of Education. There are about forty such centres across the Territory. Homeland Learning Centres are not real schools. Teachers fly or drive in and out of the community and children receive only a few hours of teaching on one or two days per week. For the rest of the time the learning centres are staffed by unqualified local ‘assistant teachers’.
Under the Homeland Learning Centre at Yilpara children did not learn to read or write, speak English or do basic arithmetic. The children could not even read the national government literacy and numeracy tests and so did not sit them.
With the assistance of the the Rotary Club of Sydney Cove (RCSC) , and Indigenous Community Benevolent Fund (ICBF), Yilpara commmunity persuaded the Department to provide the community with a real school.
This required that qualified teachers work full time at the school which meant they needed to live in the community. In 2007 the community built a three bedroom fully equipped house as accommodation for teachers and other visitors and two additional teachers’ houses were built in 2010. Since January 2009 Yilpara children have had access to full time teaching at a real school.
The Yilpara school sits in the centre of the Yilpara community and is a source of great pride for the community. There are now two classes (a junior and senior class) and about 60 children attending the school. The first full time community-based teachers were a married couple who had previously worked as teachers in China. They are due to retire at the end of 2013 after 4 years at Yilpara and the NT government is currently looking for their replacements.
The school has a 100% attendance rate.
Housing remains a major problem in Yilpara. There are not enough houses and what exists is deficient. There is considerable over-crowding which is a major contributor to poor health. With the assistance of the RCSC and the ICBF, the community has been working to identify housing solutions and to bring in private home ownership at Yilpara.
The lands at Yilpara, like most traditional Indigenous lands, are communally owned by the traditional owners and individual private title is not recognised. The Northern Land Council administers the ownership of the Yilpara lands as trustee for the traditional owners as a whole. Yilpara families want the ability to own their homes under 99 year leases over housing blocks in the Yilpara community.
In 2012 the ICBF arranged for two transportable and fully furnished and equipped homes to be transported and installed at Yilpara. These homes cost $150,000 each, ready to move in (as compared to Government-built houses on remote communities which cost about $450,000 or more). The homes are being leased back to two Yilpara families and are intended to be sold to them if and when 99 year leases are implemented.
The Chamber saw first hand these two homes in Yilpara. Nearly a year old they now have pretty gardens out the front and are obviously well cared for.
The campaign for private title is continuing but the community are optimistic that private home ownership will become a reality for the Yilpara community.
Djambawa Marawili’s hope is for Yilpara to become a thriving, self-sufficient and sustainable community with a real economy. The community is working on plans for tourism in its homelands, focussed on outback, fishing and nature tourism. Already the community welcomes visitors who can stay in the Dhuluwuy Recreation Area on the shore of Blue Mud Bay, the Maliypi camping area close to the Yilpara community or the Yilpara Visiting Officers Quarters.
Dream of Home Ownership Even More Remote. The Australian 19 May 2013