Twelve Canoes


We are the first people of our lands.

These are some of our stories from where we have lived so long.

We welcome you to know about us, about our culture, this way.

12 Canoes

This website is built for us, for everyone.

There are 12 stories here about where we live, about how we came to be, about our history and about how we live now.


There are many artworks (by many artists), photos and music here about where we live, about how we came to be, about our history and about how we live now.

Gallery > Artists

Gallery > Artworks

Gallery > People & Places

There are over 60 photos here about where and how we live.

Gallery > Music


About > Meanings

Yolngu: The literal translation of Yolngu is simply, "the people", but it is used nowadays as a term to describe the group of Australian Indigenous people (Aboriginals) living in or originating from central and eastern Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory.

Balanda: A word meaning "white person(s)", derived from the word "Hollander"...the Dutch were the first white people to come into contact with the Yolngu.

Macassan: The Macassans, from the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia began visiting the north coast of Australia centuries ago. Their trade made the Yolngu a very powerful grouping economically. Such trading was stopped by the government in the 1906-07 season, and the economy of the region was destroyed by the imposition of Balanda law.

Ramingining: Ramingining was created in the early 1970's when the Mission Station on Millingimby Island, about twenty kilometres away, became overcrowded. This meant that Yolngu from different areas were brought to live together. Some were from the Ramingining and Arafura Swamp areas, and were thus being moved closer to their traditional lands, but some were from quite a long distance away. There are fifteen or sixteen clan groups represented in Ramingining and about eight different language groups.

Arafura Swamp: A large area of freshwater wetlands just south and east of Ramingining. The swamp extends to 130,000 hectares during the wet season, and is home to an incredible variety of bird, plant and animal life. Different parts of the swamp are the traditional lands of a number of the Ramingining clans, such as the Ganalbingu ("magpie goose people"), Mandalphuy and Djinang clans.

Murwangi (literally, "plenty of fish"): An area on the Ramingining side of the swamp, part of the traditional land of the Ganalbingu people. Murwangi was made famous by the early attempts by Balanda invaders to establish a cattle station there, by subsequent remembered massacres, and by Dr Donald Thomson's study of the goose egg hunters there in 1937. There have been several mostly unsuccessful attempts to re-establish a cattle station since, and Murwangi is now beginning to become a launching place for eco-tourism.

Gumang: One of the many species of birdlife on the swamp, the Gumang, or Magpie Goose (anseranus semipalmata), is a black and white native goose which, being a significant food source in times gone by, is an important part of some ceremony. People still hunt Gumang on a limited basis these days, but with guns rather than spears or subterfuge.

Baru: The saltwater crocodile (crocodylus porosus) is a major totemic figure in the region. In 1971, despite it still being plentiful in the swamp, a complete ban on its hunting came into effect, and the Yolngu economy of the region was destroyed once again by the imposition of Balanda law. A strict quota system has since been introduced, but the crocodiles of the region are still seen by the locals to be far too numerous, and consequently aggressive. Swamp utilisation has thus been effectively restricted.

Rakai (or Ragi): A sort of water chestnut (eleocharis dulcis) which used to be a seasonal staple. It was harvested by the women and children.

Lunggurrma: The north-east wind. All the seasonal winds are individually named.

Dharratharra: Towards the middle of the dry season day temperatures are mild and night temperatures become quite cool, with heavy dew (hence "the season of shivering").

Some common Mandalpingu words:

There are no words for 'please' or 'thank you'.

About > The People

We are the Yolngu people of Ramingining, in the northern part of Central Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory.

Ramingining is a town of about 800 of our people. More of our people live on outstations different distances from town. Also about 50 Balanda live here.

The nearest other town is Maningrida, more than two hours drive away except in the rainy season, when we can only fly there.

In Ramingining we have a store, a clinic, a school, a new police station, an arts centre, a resource centre, houses and not much else.

But we have history and culture here, that our ancestors have been growing for more than forty thousand years.

They passed that culture on from generation to generation. Now it's our turn to pass it on, not just to the next generation, but to people everywhere, all over the world.

That's because our way of life is changing fast now, and what you're going to see is for every generation to remember and keep our culture alive.

About > Where In The World

Ramingining is in the northern part of Central Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory.

Ramingining is a town of about 800 of our people.

About > Study Guide

This is for all you teachers out there, and for all you students, and even for all you other people who want to get to know us better.

It is something to help you think about what you're seeing on this website, to ask some questions and really study it.

Click here to download


We are proud of our community. We are proud of our history and our present.

We are proud of our children, and our artists, and our songmen, we are proud of our whole place.

Because we are proud of all these things, we are sharing them with you. We are glad that you are interested enough to be here.

We hope that if you like them, the paintings or the stories or any of it, that you will share them with other people who are interested in learning about us...