“Until we know no more Yindjibarndi are coming, we’ve got no right to give this country away.”
Michael Woodley, Bidarka law carrier, CEO Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation
It’s 43 degrees Celsius. The law camp at Woodbrook is quiet. The young men are down at the river, out of sight, going through the law. Secret, sacred business. A passing on of culture, turning boys to men. Women’s business happens at a different time, at a different place. The remaining family members lay low in temporary shelters with walls of spinifex and roofs of leaves, sprayed with water to keep cool. They cook, talk, make boomerangs, play guitar and cards. At sunset, the camp livens up. The boys will be back soon. Everyone watches the path leading to the river. When the boys finally appear, their skin darkened with charcoal, the children run to them. They are embraced and cared for in an area specially laid out for them.
This is the story of the Yindjibarndi people of the Pilbara region in Western Australia. The Yindjibarndi have occupied their country for well over 40,000 years. As part of the world’s oldest living culture they have held on to their language and connection to country despite fierce opposition, including the forced removal of children from their families and families from their land. Aboriginal land rights in Australia has been a bitterly fought battle since colonisation. Aboriginal people were classified as flora and fauna until 1967 and it wasn’t until 1992 that Aboriginal ownership of land was recognised for the first time.
This is also the story of one man, Michael Woodley. When Michael was in his twenties his grandfather asked him to lead the Yindjibarndi people through the complicated Native Title negotiations with mining companies Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group. Michael did not flinch and he has been fighting ever since.
Three Gates Media interviewed Michael for the RareAir podcast and produced a series of photoessays when they visited Yindjibarndi country.
“I …believe that Yindjibarndi people, Yindjibarndi language and Yindjibarndi country (and all that is within, from both past and present) are not different things, but related parts of one thing, called “Yindjibarndi”… which has existed since the Ngurranyujunggamu. This is why I, and the other Yindjibarndi Ngaarda, believe we must continue to look after Yindjibarndi country, in the way the Birdarra says we must, because we don’t just belong to Yindjibarndi country, we are Yindjibarndi country.”
Michael Woodley in proceedings before the National Native Title Tribune