Arnhem Land is one of the five regions of the
Northern Territory of
Australia. It is located in the north-eastern corner of the territory
and is around 500 km (310 mi) from the territory capital
Darwin. The region has an area of 97,000 km2
(37,000 sq mi), which also covers the area of Kakadu
National Park, and a population of 16,230. In 1623, Dutch East India
Company captain William van Colster sailed into the Gulf of
Carpentaria and Cape
Arnhem is named after his ship, the Arnhem, which
itself was named after the city of
Arnhem in the Netherlands.
The area covers about 97,000 km2 and has an estimated population of
16,000, of whom 12,000 are Yolngu, the traditional owners. The
region’s service hub is Nhulunbuy, 600 km east of Darwin, set up in
the early 1970s as a mining town (bauxite). Other major population
Yirrkala (just outside Nhulunbuy),
Oenpelli), Ramingining, and Maningrida.
A substantial proportion of the population, which is mostly
Aboriginal, lives on small outstations. This outstation movement
started in the early 1980s. Many Aboriginal groups moved to usually
very small settlements on their traditional lands, often to escape the
problems (alcohol, petrol-sniffing, idleness) on the larger townships.
These population groups have very little western influence culturally
Arnhem Land is arguably one of the last areas in
Australia that could be seen as a completely separate country. Many of
the region's leaders have called and continue to call for a treaty
that would allow the
Yolngu to operate under their own traditional
In 2013–14, the entire region contributed around $1.3 billion or 7%
to the Northern Territory’s gross state product, mainly through
5 See also
7 External links
An Aboriginal man named Timmy Burarrwanga sits at Bawaka. The majority
of people in
Arnhem Land are Indigenous Australians.
Arnhem Land has been occupied by indigenous people for tens of
thousands of years and is the location of the oldest-known stone axe,
which scholars believe to be 35,500 years old. The Gove Peninsula
was heavily involved in the defence of
Australia during World War II.
At least since the 18th century (and probably earlier) Muslim traders
Makassar (now Indonesia) visited
Arnhem Land each year to trade,
harvest, and process sea cucumbers or trepang. This marine animal is
highly prized in Chinese cuisine, for folk medicine, and as an
Macassan contact with
Australia is the first recorded example of
interaction between the inhabitants of the
Australian continent and
their Asian neighbours.
Macassan wooden sailboat or prau of the type trepangers have used
This contact had a major effect on local indigenous Australians. The
Makassans exchanged goods such as cloth, tobacco, knives, rice, and
alcohol for the right to trepang coastal waters and employ local
Makassar pidgin became a lingua franca along the north coast
among several indigenous Australian groups who were brought into
greater contact with each other by the seafaring Makassan culture.
These traders from the southwest corner of
Sulawesi also introduced
the word balanda for white people, long before western explorers set
foot on the coasts of northern Australia. In
Arnhem Land, the word is
still widely used today to refer to white Australians. The Dutch
started settling in
Sulawesi Island in the early 17th century.
Archeological remains of
Makassar contact, including trepang
processing plants (drying, smoking) from the 18th and 19th centuries,
are still found at Australian locations such as
Port Essington and
Groote Eylandt. The Makassans also planted tamarind trees (native to
Madagascar and East Africa). After processing, the sea slugs were
traded by the Makassans to Southern China.
In 2014, an 18th-century Chinese coin was found in the remote area of
Wessel Islands off the coast on a beach on
Elcho Island during a
historical expedition. The coin was found near previously known
Macassan trepanger fishing sites (sea cucumber fishing) where several
other Dutch coins have been discovered nearby, but never a Chinese
coin. The coin was probably made in Beijing around 1735. 
The area is from Port Roper on the
Gulf of Carpentaria
Gulf of Carpentaria around the
coast to the East Alligator River, where it adjoins Kakadu National
Park. The major centres are Jabiru on the
Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park border,
Maningrida at the
Liverpool River mouth, and
Nhulunbuy (also known as
Gove) in the far north-east, on the Gove Peninsula. Gove is the site
of large-scale bauxite mining with an associated alumina refinery. Its
administrative centre is the town of Nhulunbuy, the fourth-largest
population centre in the Northern Territory.
The climate of
Arnhem Land is tropical monsoon with a wet and dry
season. The temperature has little seasonal variation; however, it can
range from overnight lows of 15 °C (59 °F) in the dry
season (April to September) to daily highs of 33 °C
(91 °F) in the wet season (October to March).
East Alligator River
East Alligator River Crossing (Cahills Crossing)
Goyder River Crossing, Central
Some areas of deep cultural significance to the indigenous inhabitants
are off-limits even to those with permission to travel across Arnhem
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Declared an Aboriginal Reserve in 1931, it remains one of the largest
Aboriginal Reserves in
Australia and is perhaps best known for its
isolation, the art of its people, and the strong continuing traditions
of its indigenous inhabitants. Northeast
Arnhem Land is home to the
Yolngu people, one of the largest indigenous groups in
Australia, and who have succeeded in maintaining a vigorous
traditional indigenous culture. The Malays and Makassans are believed
to have had contact with the coastal Aboriginal groups and traded with
them prior to European settlement of Australia.
The 2006 film
Ten Canoes captures life in
Arnhem Land through a story
tapping into the Aboriginal mythic past; it was co-directed by one of
the indigenous cast members. The film and the documentary about the
making of the film, The Balanda and the Bark Canoes, give a remarkable
testimony to the indigenous struggle to keep their culture alive –
or rather revive it in the wake of considerable relative modernisation
and influence of white (balanda) cultural imposition. 
Glen Namundja, an
Australian Aboriginal artist from
Arnhem Land, at
The Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, just outside Nhulunbuy, is
internationally known for bark paintings, promoting the rights of
Indigenous Australians, and as the origin of the yidaki, or
didgeridoo. The community of
Gunbalanya (previously known as Oenpelli)
Arnhem Land is also notable for bark painting. The
indigenous inhabitants also create temporary sand sculptures as part
of their sacred rituals.
Arnhem Land is also notable for Aboriginal rock-art, some of the
finest examples of which can be found at
Ubirr Rock, Injalak Hill, and
in the Canon Hill area. Some of these record the early years of
European explorers and settlers, sometimes in such detail that
Martini–Henry rifles can be identified. They also depict axes, and
detailed paintings of aircraft and ships. One remote shelter, several
hundred kilometres from Darwin, has a painting of the wharf at Darwin,
including building and boats, and Europeans with hats and pipes, some
apparently without hands (which they have in their trouser pockets).
East Alligator River
East Alligator River crossing, a figure was painted of a man
carrying a gun and wearing his hair in long pigtails down his back,
characteristic of the Chinese labourers brought to Darwin in the late
Yolngu prehistoric stone arrangement at Maccasans Beach near
Yirrkala shows the layout of the
Macassan praus used for trepang (sea
cucumber) fishing in the area. This was a legacy of
Yolngu trade links
with the people on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The trading
relationship antedated European settlement by some 200 years.
Aboriginal artists in
Arnhem Land are primarily represented by
Aboriginal Art Centres, nonprofit, community-owned organisations.
Arnhem Land, primarily
Yolngu Matha-speaking artists are
promoted by Buku Larrnggay Mulka in Yirrkala, Bula'bula Arts in
Elcho Island Arts and Crafts on Elcho Island, Gapuwiyak
Culture and Arts in Gapuwiyak and Milingimbi Art and Culture on
Milingimbi Island. In Central
Maningrida Arts &
Maningrida promotes the work of a diverse range of
Kuninjku, Burarra, and Gurrgoni artists, amongst others. In West
Injalak Arts in
Gunbalanya represents mainly Kunwinjku
artists. Ngukurr Arts is located on the
Roper River in Southern Arnhem
Land. Art is also produced on the many islands of
Arnhem Land, and
there are art centres on the Anindilyakwa speaking Groote Eylandt
(Anindilyakwa Art) and the Maung speaking
Goulburn Islands (Mardbalk
Arts & Crafts).
An Aboriginal man pointing out fish in Port Bradshaw,
Arnhem Land is also renowned for embracing the homeland movement,
sometimes referred to as the outstation movement.
A focus in recent years by governments about the "viability" of the
homelands has caused tensions and uncertainty within the
In September 2008, then Darwin correspondent for The Age, Lindsay
Murdoch, wrote: "Elders tell of their fears that
Yolngu culture and
society will not survive if clans cannot continue to live on and
access their land through homelands. They warn that if services are
cut, many of the 800 people in the Laynhapuy homelands will be forced
to move to towns such as
Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula, creating new
law and order problems, while those who stay will be severely
In response to changes made by the
Northern Territory government
surrounding reduced support for the homelands in 2009, the indigenous
Patrick Dodson heavily criticised the Northern Territory
government's controversial new policy on remote Aboriginal
communities, describing it as a "die on the vine" plan that will
"slowly but surely" kill indigenous culture.
Born in the 1930s, Dr Gawirrin Gumana AO is a leader of the Dhalwangu
clan. He is one of the most senior Yolŋu alive today and is renowned
for his artwork and knowledge of traditional culture and law. In May
2009, he had the following to say about the significance of the
homelands to his people:
"We want to stay on our own land. We have our culture, we have our
law, we have our land rights, we have our painting and carving, we
have our stories from our old people, not only my people, but
everyone, all Dhuwa and Yirritja, we are not making this up.
I want you to listen to me Government.
I know you have got the money to help our Homelands. But you also know
there is money to be made from Aboriginal land.
You should trust me, and you should help us to live here, on our land,
for my people.
I am talking for all Yolŋu now.
So if you can't trust me Government, if you can't help me Government,
come and shoot me, because I will die here before I let this
Despite facing government concerns and policy confusion, a number of
people have developed commercial enterprises that have centred on
using the best elements of their homelands. Indigenous tourism
ventures incorporating the controlled use of homelands are now showing
signs of success for a select number of Yolngu.
Kakadu National Park
Plants Kakadu National Park
Protected areas of the Northern Territory
Gabarnmung – Aboriginal archaeological and rock art site
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2 October 2008). "Australian
Demographic Statistics" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-06-24.
^ "About East
^ a b c MacKnight, CC (1976). The Voyage to Marege: Macassan
Trepangers in Northern Australia. Melbourne University Press.
Australian Geographic (August 2014). "18th Century Chinese coin
^ Vertigo Productions. "Ten Canoes". Retrieved 14 June 2016.
^ "The Balanda and the Bark Canoes at the National Film and Sound
Australian Government (30 October 2008). "'Viability of Aboriginal
communities'". Archived from the original on 2011-02-21. Retrieved
The Age (26 September 2008). "'The Homelands' Ancient Ties".
^ ABC (2 June 2009). "'Killing us softly: Dodson slams outstations
plan'". Retrieved 2011-02-18.
Australian Human Rights Commission
Australian Human Rights Commission (2009). "'Social Justice Report
2009: Chapter 4 Sustaining Aboriginal homeland communities'".
^ "'Bawaka'". 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
Arnhem Land. Its History and Its People. 1954. R. M. & C. H.
Berndt. F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Arnhem Land travel guide from Wikivoyage
Gove Online Community Website
Australian places named by Dutch navigators and explorers in the 17th
Australian continent /
Nova Hollandia / Nieuw Holland
Staaten River (Staten Riuier)
Gulf of Carpentaria
Vanderlin Island (Cap Vanderlin)
Arnhem Land (Arnhems Landt)
Crocodile Islands (Cocodrils Eÿlandt)
Van Diemen Gulf
Van Diemen Gulf (Baÿa van-Diemen)
Dirk Hartog Island
Nuyts Land District
Rottnest Island (Eyland Rottenest)
Swan River (Swarte Swaene-Revier)
St Francis Island
St Francis Island (Eyland St. Francois)
St Peter Island
St Peter Island (Eyland St. Pierre)
Van Diemen's Land
Van Diemen's Land / Anthoonij van Diemenslandt (mainland Tasmania)
De Witt Island
Maatsuyker Island (Maetsuickers eylan)
Maria Island (Marias Eylandt)
Schouten Island (Schoute Eylandt)
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2Named by the Dutch, but a Portuguese name
Many names have been Anglicised; for these the original Dutch name
appears in brackets
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Coordinates: 12°43′51.02″S 134°35′34.13″E /
12.7308389°S 134.5928139°E / -12.73