Located on the east coast of the Gove peninsula in north-east Arnhem Land, 18 km south of Nhulunbuy, Yirrkala has a population of around 800 people.
The Methodist Church established a mission at Yirrkala in 1935 and over the following decades, members of the 13 clans from the surrounding area were gradually drawn into the mission. Together these Yolngu clans formed a social system that differs from neighbouring systems. The Yolngu Matha are divided into two moieties, Yirritja and Dhuwa, and each person inherits membership of a group and its moiety from his or her father.
The community of Yirrkala has a strong history of advocacy, particularly for land rights and bilingual education, and is famous for its music and art. In 1963, Yirrkala became well known when traditional landowners sent a bark petition to the Australian Government to protest against the Prime Minister’s announcement that a section of their land would be sold for bauxite mining.
A working group of senior Yolngu community members is providing input, guidance, and advice to the WCE initiative along with the principals of the two schools in Yirrkala.
The three Yirrkala based WCE researchers have identified four projects to support the community’s passion and commitment to strengthening educational pathways. These include;
- Pathway Mapping responds to community interest in ensuring local Yolngu people hold senior roles at workplaces within the community
- Intergenerational Research explores the educational experiences of three generations of family members in and will help to understand the strengths of local schooling and boarding schools, as well as of various programs and approaches from previous policy eras.
- Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow draws on data from a range of sources, including statistics and reports, to understand education in Yirrkala in the past and today in order to gain a good understanding of previous and current situations, and to inspire reflection about and planning for the future of Yirrkala.
- Interactive Family Mapping will develop an interactive map featuring Yirrkala and homelands communities that illustrates the cultural identities, foundations, and homelands of the steering group for the WCE initiative in Yirrkala.