Yirrkala: Pain for this Land

Ian Dunlop
43 minutes


Yirrkala is an Aboriginal township on the Gove Peninsula in Northeast Arnhem Land. It was established as a Methodist mission in 1935 and over the years Yolngu from many different clans moved there.

Yirrkala's isolation was shattered in the late 60s and early 70s when a huge open-cut bauxite mine was developed on the Gove Peninsula. With the mine came an alumnia treatment plant and the mining town of Nhulunby. In 1970-71 Aboriginal land owners took the mining company and the Commonwealth to court in the first land rights case in Australian history. The Yolngu lost their case.

The film begins at a village council meeting in 1970, where elders are discussing the film project and its purpose. Chairman Roy Dadaynga Maringa explains his vision for the project - a history covering three elements, the Yolngu, the Mission, and "that which is going to worry us in the future" - the mine. Clan elders follow, describing their clan beliefs, and discuss the coming of the mine, with the inevitable alcohol, and their fears for the future. The impact of the mine on the lives of the Aboriginal people grew when they lost their Land Rights case. The affect of this defeat and the failed attempts to employ the Yolngu are documented, along with Roy Dadaynga Maringa's individual struggle for his people. Most of the elders and the young who appear in this film are now dead, but their words have proven to be prophetic.

Pip Deveson
Producer / Production company: 
Chris Oliver