Australia is home to one of the world’s most enduring living cultures, dating back roughly 65,000 years. It is estimated that there were once 250 distinct Indigenous languages and 800 dialects spoken across the continent. At the time Australia was colonised, people lived in a way that was practically and spiritually linked to sentient or living landscapes created in the Dreamtime by mythical ancestors. Today, Indigenous Australians hold intricate ecological knowledge of the land and how to manage it that is passed down from generation to generation: in stories, in languages, in ceremonies.
Arnhem Land was one of the last regions in Australia to be colonised, due to its remoteness, the ruggedness of the terrain and the harshness of the tropical climate. Consequently, the Aboriginal people of Western Arnhem Land have maintained their distinct norms, values and belief systems, evident in the contemporary robustness of languages, kinship ecological knowledge and ceremonies. In this remote part of the world, there are still Elders living today who grew up on Country around the time of European colonisation.
'Karrinahnan bim ba kamak rowk, kobohkohbanj korroko birrinahnani dja bolkki karriyawoyhkerrngehme ba bu wurdurd kabirribolbme.'
'We look after rock art like old people used to. Today, we want to renew it and care for it to make sure it’s all fine so that the children learn our history.'
The distinct cultural heritage of Bininj people is evident in a regional kinship system and in shared Dreaming tracks and creation stories, often performed in ceremonies. The physical presence of this cultural heritage can be seen in a network of sacred sites and in an extraordinary number of rock art galleries spread across the Arnhem Land escarpment. These are places of great emotional significance for today’s Bininj, where previous generations resided under rock shelters during the wet seasons, leaving their unique signatures in the landscape.
Cultural heritage and ancestral connections are at risk of being lost, as support for communities to live on homelands wanes. Those who grew upon Country are ageing and passing away, and with them language, stories, and knowledge. Physical heritage, rock art for example, is also suffering damage from feral animals and wildfires, and is in need of active management to safeguard it for future generations. The Karrkad Kanjdji Trust supports vital community-led projects aimed at preserving cultural heritage and actively passing down Indigenous ecological knowledge.
Kunwarddebim (Rock Art) Project
Warddeken Rangers and staff are documenting, protecting and sharing the extensive assemblage (currently over 30,000 sites) of Indigenous rock art found throughout the Warddeken Indigenous Protected Area. Informed by extensive community consultation and Traditional Owner knowledge of former occupation sites, rangers survey and identify important places that can be protected with fencing to exclude feral animals and cool burning fire management to create firebreaks and easier access to undertake seasonal conservation actions.
As the art is documented, the team also collects the stories and knowledge of Indigenous Elders who have lived experience of visiting these sites as children. The art is recorded in a bilingual database that holds photographs, videos and audio of Elders retelling the stories of the art as well as conservation steps to take care of it into the future.
Indigenous Language and Culture (ILC) Curriculum Project
The ILC Curriculum Project is focused on raising the first and second-language literacy levels of Indigenous children in West Arnhem Land, in collaboration with the Nawarddeken Academy. While this unique bi-cultural primary school has recurrent government funding to support the teaching and learning of the Australian Curriculum, this funding does not support activities around Indigenous cultural and language development. KKT, with the help of our philanthropic partners, is supporting an ILC Curriculum and developing bilingual language material in both printed and digital form, as well as engaging in an app designed to capture vital language and knowledge.
The first stage of this project is creating a seasonal calendar in both English and Kunwinjku (the most regularly used regional dialect). This calendar will bring together on-Country learning and the formal Australian Curriculum. Once integrated, the materials and resources that this project creates will underpin the education of children across the Warddeken IPA, helping to connect their academic lessons with their local environment.