90. 1956/57 Adjustment Movement, No.1

In this podcast series, Richard Trudgen asks Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM about the Adjustment Movement of 1957 in Galiwin’ku, a Yolngu community on Elcho Island in north-east Arnhem Land. This was a movement where Yolngu leaders tried to join up both Balanda and Yolngu law. Many Yolngu leaders gathered from the east, west and south of Arnhem land.  The movement was led by several leaders on Galiwinku to try and get Balanda to see that Yolngu had a system of law.

Djiniyini speaks about the different Yolngu leaders that were set up by the Methodist Mission. It seems as though the Balanda missionaries thought they had to appoint these leaders. Therefore they were not fully accepted by Yolngu people because Yolngu all have different estates and different leaders within them.

Richard and Djiniyini discuss how this was where the ḻiya-gäna role of Yolngu dictators – or little “Balanda” Yolngu bosses – started in Yolngu communities. These leaders followed the model of the Balanda superintendents. This was also during the time of the Welfare Act that controlled the lives of Yolngu.

Djiniyini states that there was one good thing that came out of this time: Yolngu people were able to apply their own law during this period. It was a period of peace and order and a time of great trade and business as they respected each other’s estates and each other’s assets on those estates. They applied the systems of law that had been used since the beginning of time.

In Story No. 2, Richard asks Djiniyini to tell more of the story of the Adjustment Movement on Elcho Island. Djiniyini shares how the two leaders at Galiwinku organised carpenters and painters to produce different legal objects, such as a “coat of arms” for different Bäpurru corporate clan groups. Some Yolngu were against these leaders wanting to show the Balanda their inside “coat of arms”, concerned that the Balanda would steal them.

Djiniyini recalls the morning that the coat of arms was revealed, and how the Yolngu people were not sure what would happen when they showed these secret elements of their law to the Balanda.

In Story No. 3, Djiniyini speaks about the “enthronement” process of Yolngu leaders. This is the process of law where Yolngu authorise their political leaders according to the two moieties (or divisions) of Yolngu people: the Dhuwa and Yirritja. The political leaders who are chosen and authorised become the djirrikay political leaders if they are Dhuwa, and the dalkarra political leaders if they are Yirritja. Ḏalkarra djirrikay political leaders are the selected leaders in Yolngu society.

These political leaders must listen to their people and they are given the authority to speak for and on behalf of them.  The people also pay these leaders for looking after them. Djiniyini tells how he witnessed these leaders being paid. He also talks about his father at the time who was the captain of the mission lugger out at sea, delivering supplies to the different mission stations.

These leaders were really trying to fit in with the way Balanda did things; they even dressed up one Yolngu man as a policeman. To try to make Yolngu law fit in with the Balanda way, they also established a village council made up of the traditional leaders. They took the leaders that were chosen by the missionaries and put them as the heads of the village council.  This was before the town councils were established. It was a time of great change in the Mission set up a “commission of enquiry” to find out what Yolngu wanted in relation to their future.

These initiatives happened before Yolngu people were crippled by Federal government welfare.  They were serious about their future and started to talk about self-determination. Yolngu wanted to control their own lives. The government, however, started talking about self-management.

In Story No. 4, Djiniyini talks about community justice, and that when there were problems people went to the selected leaders for them to adjudicate and solve the issues. Their leaders would either resolve or deal out punishment to close down the problems. Most mornings they would also speak to the community about how to keep the peace.

Even at this time, Yolngu were still wanting to know when the Balanda would recognise their law? When would the King recognise their law? When would the government recognise their law? When would the church recognise their law? But nothing happened. So, they set up the village council to try and get some recognition through it.

Until some Yolngu people got arrested by Balanda (which was a shock to them), Yolngu were still unclear, and are still unclear to this day, about whether Balanda have a system of law.

There are 4 Stories in this podcast. Please see time stamps below –

  • Story No. 1 1957 Mission started the Big Boss Leader system  0:00
  • Story No. 2 1957 Adjustment Movement Elcho, Part 1  10:30
  • Story No. 3 1957 Adjustment Movement Elcho, Part 2  20:15
  • Story No. 4 1957 Adjustment Movement Elcho, Part 3  31:40