ROBS BLOG: Visiting Central Arnhem Land

 I would like to tell you a story about what I saw when we were specially invited to Gapuwiyak in Central Arnhem Land to meet an Aboriginal family.


Central Arnhem Land

It has been great meeting this family because their ancestors’ have lived in Central Arnhem Land. They are here for tens of thousands of years and are the first people of Australia!  They are called Yolŋu, which means the ‘people’ of Arnhem Land.  I feel sorry for my Friends with the same ages as mine, their ancestor’s death could be by ours. They tell me, ‘Manymuk’ which is used all the time in Yolŋu and means ‘good, good’.  


Central Arnhem Land

Learning about spears

When we met the family for the first time, I was very nervous, but also delighted.  I really loved playing with the boys and they taught me a lot.  We were playing outside in their yard, and they found a very big ‘Darpinta’ which to us is a Caterpillar. 

My sister Abby and the boy’s sister Leonie loved looking after the giant Darpinta we found.  My new Yolŋu friends are also very good at finding food.  They asked me to look for a Yolŋu mango. So, like a spider I went climbing up a tree.

But,  they were tricking me as they were down below digging like moles in the ground.  They said to me “Not up there silly, down here!” and then they pulled out a root with fruit that was yellow and thin.  I thought wow, I didn’t even know that existed and was food.  It must have been something they have learnt from their father and ancestors.


We all loved our visit so much that Harry the Dad, has invited me back another year to go out into the bush and make my very own spear and go hunting with them using their ancient traditions.


I think this would be great so I hope we can make it back next year to join them on a hunt, but I’m just not so sure about seeing all the blood and guts!  Aunty was very good at weaving mats and she is sharing how to do it with my Mum.  We were given dyed pandanus palms to take back with us and were asked to make our family mat ourselves.

Central Arnhem Land

Abby’s new friend and the ‘Darpinta’ (caterpillar)

(While in Gapuwiyak) We went to the town Art Centre where they sold boomerangs, spears and clap sticks.  They were all painted with unique patterns, and we got to watch – they made solid lines using goat hair and sometimes even human hair!  We also went to a shop run by the Aboriginal women called Malka.  They make soaps from the bark of the tea tree, Mats from pandanus leaves and Necklaces and Earrings from beads and shells from Arnhem Land.  Note:  These people are very polite and loved to cuddle Abby.

Central Arnhem Land

Central Arnhem Land

Learning how to weave using pandanus palms

It was a perfect trip to Gapuwiyak, in fact, the dirt was so red that when we washed the car afterwards, we could still see the red dust!  The road to Gapuwiak was rough, tough and even had a lot of huge crashed and smashed vehicles on it!  It was bumpy, so we were a bit car sick to get there.   Before the wet season, in Central Arnhem Land, everything was very dry, but when the wet season came in everything went to the bright green forest and muddy lands.  There is a now a lot of potholes because of water erosion, and they will keep on getting bigger and bigger until the road needs fixing.  If you decide to make this trip, just be caring about your car because it can break it.  I’m not saying don’t travel, be careful.

Central Arnhem Land

You know – boys will be boys

In summary, I think to be careful on the road and don’t be afraid to meet the Yolgnu people.  They are kind and will be more than happy to help and talk to you if you are kind and Manymuk ‘good, good’ to them.

My name is Rob Dowling, and I would like to be an author when I grow up!





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  1. Joan Heslehurst

    Thanks for the wonderful account of your travels Rob. I really enjoyed reading it and hopefully one day will read about all your experiences in one of your books. I look forward to hearing about your next adventure.

  2. Rob thank you for your wonderful story and your obvious enjoyment of these wonderful people. I wish more Aussies had the chance to learn from this amazing ancient culture. I have been following the adventures of you and your family for some time now and I hope you continue to have such amazing opportunities as these will help make you a wonderful author.

  3. What an excellent recount of your time Rob. Your words feel like I was experiencing it myself. I wish you and your family many more awesome adventures like this.

  4. Thank you for sharing about your trip to Gapuwiyak, Rob. That sounds like a wonderful experience. The pandanus palm weaving would be my favourite- if I had the patience to finish it!

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