Sitting down in Darwin
: Yolngu women from northeast Arnhem Land and family life in the city

  • Kerin Maureen Coulehan

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    When Yolŋu women, children and family groups move to Darwin from remote communities in northeast Amhem Land they experience altered circumstances of relations of power between two nurturant regimes, a Yolŋu system of familial governance exercised in kinship and in ceremony and state government exercised via welfare monies and community services. Both the familial and the state systems of care and control seek to govern individuals and families from the birth of infants, throughout childhood, in various marital and family circumstances, at critical times of life, including in sickness and at death and according to different orientations of movement.

    Various government departments centralised in Darwin govern the remote-dwelling Yolŋu by bringing them into the city, there to be attended to especially in terms of urban health, housing and education services and then repatriated to remote communities and clan lands. It is an unintended consequence of state agency that the controlled movement of Aboriginal people to urban centres should take on a momentum of its own. This momentum is evident in the kinship dynamics of Yolŋu rural-urban mobility and in the strategies of individuals, in particular of Yolŋu women, as they set out on their own marital, migratory and urban careers.

    Because the two nurturant systems do not fully recognise each other's legitimacy, it happens all too often that a Yolŋu system of familial governance and state agencies of government act at cross purposes. Yolŋu say that trying to live "both-ways, two-ways" is especially difficult in Darwin. While this Aboriginal English expression has largely been interpreted to mean two languages, two cultures, two ways of life, I suggest that it also applies to the articulation of a Yolŋu system of governance with external agents of government and the adjustment of Yolŋu life to altered circumstances, even when Yolŋu move to "sit down" (to stay, to live) in Darwin.

    Note: Please note that images have been removed due to culturally sensitive content.
    Date of Award1995
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorNancy Williams (Supervisor) & Patrick McConvell (Supervisor)

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