More than 400 Yolngu people from across six Arnhem Land communities have helped create a new resource to better deal with family violence across the region.
ARDS Aboriginal Corporation has been working on the family violence project for the past three years.
The result is a booklet for anyone working with Yolngu people affected by family violence, including lawyers, social workers and medical professionals.
“It’s all about how me – a balanda [non-Indigenous] person – just flies to a community and just jumps off the plane and would like to do this job,” ARDS Aboriginal Corporation cultural facilitator Janos Kerekes said.
“Who do I need to approach first in the community? Who I need to talk to. What’s the best way to talk to that person?
“Yolngu really appreciate every kind of effort we make to understand better their culture and ways of living.”
‘Gurrutu is our main priority’: ARDS chairman
The booklet explains importance of gurrutu, the Yolngu word for kinship or family relationships.
It is the first concept balanda people working with people affected by family violence should learn, according to ARDS Aboriginal Corporation vice-chairman Gawura Wanambi.
“Gurrutu is our main priority. It shows us who we are, how we are, how we relate to each other,” Mr Wanambi said.
“When a balanda comes into the community, the first thing they need to get to know is the gurrutu system, then they’ll reach their understanding of others, the whole thing for Yolngu.
“I’ve seen so many balandas come into community without knowing that.”
According to gurrutu, Yolngu plants, animals and people are divided into two groups – or moieties – known as yirritja and dhuwa.
Cultural issues can be violence trigger points
The resource explains how Yolngu society, clans and family relationships are organised, including the importance of skin names and avoidance relationships.
“When it comes to bad incidents that happen with my sister, I don’t need to know that,” Mr Wanambi said.
“That’s a conflict for me. That’s avoidance sort of a situation.”
Romantic relationships between people with the “wrong” skin group can cause trouble and family violence, Mr Wanambi said.
“It’s for young Yolngu too. Young Yolngu to understand,” he said.
“Right now family violence is a new thing. It’s new to Yolngu.
“There’s so many things that we are having, tasting, going with, that are causing all this violence now with family.”
The resource promotes the use of Yolngu cultural facilitators in communities, a paid position to help visitors navigate the community.
“If I go to a community, I need a Yolngu person to work with, who I can rely on, who I can ask questions,” Mr Kerekes said.
These Yolngu workers would perform different work to an interpreter, helping the visitor develop respectful relationships and explaining language and cultural protocols.