Ngukurr: a Special Remote Community

A long time ago I had the privilege of visiting Ngukurr a couple of times to do some Bible Studies with the translators who were working on the Kriol Bible. It is an historical place because of how it developed as a place of refuge and also because of its strategic location in relation to nearby Communities, such as Numbulwar, and the Communities on Groote Island.

A couple of recent books have added to the history of this fascinating place.

We are Aboriginal. Our 100 years: from Arnhem Land’s first mission to Ngukurr today. Published by St Matthew’s Church Ngukurr 2008. (ISBN 978 1 875126 26 2) and available from Acorn Press. This is a book by the people of Ngukurr. It is their story about their country, their people, their languages and their main modern language, Kriol. It tells their history of how the tribes came together at Ngukurr in the face of the systematic slaughter being carried out by white men. It traces the different eras in the mission times (1908 – 1940; 1940 -1968). Here is eye-witness, source document, history from the people who lived in these places and times. It also deals with the last 40 years and discusses land rights, education and the Kriol Bible. The book also contains a DVD.

It is not just a book that celebrates an anniversary. It can also be read over against the various writings that criticise the work of missions amongst Aboriginal people. This book is not a whitewash, but it does give the view of those who lived and experienced the mission (and the subsequent non-mission) eras from the inside.

By contrast is a report called Ngukurr at the Millennium: A Baseline Profile for Social Impact Planning in South-East Arnhem Land, by J. Taylor, J. Bern, and K.A. Senior, published in 2000 by CAEPR ANU as Research Monograph No. 18 (ISBN 0 7315 5102 8). Available here as a pdf. This is “a largely synchronic social statistical analysis” of the community of Ngukurr. It “comes after a generation of self management and land rights and immediately prior to the possibility of major introduced economic development based on mineral exploitation.” (p iv). It is meant as a baseline study against which later studies would be able to assess the impact of large scale mining on the community.

There are some valuable insights in the report. However it seems generally to correspond with reports of other remote communities and indicates a general level of dysfunction across most categories of social and life well-being. It thus reinforces and is consistent with the kind of discussions found in Sutton and Austin-Broos for example.

If this is too depressing, I am looking forward to reading Murray Seiffert’s book, Refuge on the Roper : The Origins of Roper River Mission, Ngukurr. Acorn Press, 2008 (ISBN: 0908284675).

He has also just published Gumbuli Of Ngukurr: Aboriginal elder in Arnhem Land, Acorn Press, 2011 (098713292X). While tracing the story of this remarkable leader, the blurbs indicate that the book also takes up the recent issues of health, education, welfare and so on. Looks like a must read.

Dale Appleby

About Dale Appleby

Dale Appleby is a graduate of Moore College, served in parishes in Perth, Northern Territory and Jakarta. Presently the minister at Willetton, in the suburbs of Perth. Married to Joy with four kids and seven grand-kids (at last count).
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