Time and Tide -

The passing of senior Yolngu women

The Yothu Yindi Foundation today paid tribute to yet another senior Yolngu woman, Mrs Mununggurr, who passed away yesterday after battling illness, the second death of a senior Yolngu woman in consecutive days.

A founding member of YYF, Mrs Mununggurr was a healer who used her extensive knowledge of her surrounds and environment to care for others and mend many broken bodies, hearts and minds. Alongside other Yolngu ladies, she was instrumental in the idea, vision and direction of the Garma Festival and Dilthan Yolngunha, the Healing Place.

Her generous nature and charisma drew together friends and colleagues from across the world, and her spirit and warmth will be sorely missed. Mrs Mununggurr wore as a badge of honour the title of “Aunty” to all, even for those not immediately related to her. Her death, and that of her niece yesterday, has brought deep sorrow to the communities of Arnhem Land.

YYF Chairman and senior Yolngu elder Galarrwuy Yunupingu said Mrs Mununggurr believed in the vision of garma, which is that two worlds – two peoples – can come together and find their rightful place.

“My sister and cousin have maintained the integrity of our family’s clan practices and maintained their cultural responsibilities, always honouring the legacy laid down by those who passed long before their time,” he said.

“The Gumatj honour the yothu yindi mother-child connection, and we feel the emptiness and heartbreak like a mother losing one’s child. Our family is devastated, and we hold fondly the memory of a strong woman who will forever remain close to our hearts.”

YYF Board of Director Ms Binmila Yunupingu said Mrs Mununggurr’s passing had devastated the Gumatj, Galpu and Rirratjingu families, already grieving the loss of another family member. “My aunties were the family’s life-force, and their wisdom and knowledge was priceless,” she said.

“Our yothu, a child coming from Gumatj, a child who has had so much knowledge passed onto her by her mothers, always enforcing and maintaining the true yothu yindi connection.

“Let their fires burn on – a call to unify Yolngu ga ngapaki from near and far. Rest in peace marrkapmi manda, mukul ga ngandi.”

Her death comes just one day after this statement was released by the Foundation.

“It is with great sadness that the Yothu Yindi Foundation mourns the passing of Ms Gurruwiwi, our dear friend and board member.

A leader of her large Galpu family, Ms Gurruwiwi was a strong, resilient, senior traditional Yolngu woman who was a passionate advocate for her people and community. Day in day out, Ms Gurruwiwi tirelessly contributed everything she had to her family and her people.

She was a strong spokesperson for Yolngu people and their future and never stopped working to find a rightful place for her people in the modern world. First and foremost she was a Yolngu woman who sought to bridge the gap between Yolngu and non-Yolngu people.

She was involved in numerous community projects and sat on many boards, including Miwatj Health, Lirrwi Tourism, ARDS and Yolngu Radio, and the Ladies Choir. She is a treasured and highly respected member of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, and her contribution to our education projects has been priceless.

In her role as a director of the annual Garma Festival in northeast Arnhem Land, she delivered numerous cultural awareness workshops to our guests, generously helping others to gain a better understanding of Indigenous traditions and customs.

Her love of linguistics was evident in the Yolngu Matha classes she provided many Garma guests, often delivered with a dose of good humour. She was also instrumental in supporting Yolngu prisoners, many of them serving time for minor offences, through the introduction of the Elders Visiting Program in the township of Gove, a program credited with greatly assisting offenders in their rehabilitation & reintegration.

Born in 1955 to a Gumatj mother and Galpu father, Ms Gurruwiwi was loved by all who knew her. She passed away peacefully, surrounded by her family.

The rock that stands against time, she moves freely between worlds.”

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