Caring for country

The place where the Dreaming changed shape

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  • Published 20170502
  • ISBN: 9781925498356
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

SMALL FIRES STREAK the savanna beneath me, as the land is worked and cleaned. The gentle smoke on the horizon is sign of a healthy country. In the distance, disappearing into a soft haze, lies the rugged stone country of the Arnhem Land Plateau. The plane wobbles over the mouth of the Liverpool River, where saltwater meets fresh, and descends towards a thin ribbon of grey on a cleared patch of thick, earthy red: the international airport. On one side of the airstrip, a few dozen houses cluster around a football oval; on the other, a neat grid delineates the newest suburb, called simply ‘New Sub’. Maningrida, as our destination is known, takes its name from the Kunibídji phrase Mane djang karirra: ‘the place where the Dreaming changed shape’.[i]

The town’s simple layout belies the immense cultural diversity of its inhabitants. On any given day, a visitor might hear the rippling sounds of Ndjébbana, Eastern Kunwinjku, Kune, Rembarrnga, Dangbon/Dalabon, Nakkára, Gurrgoni, Djinang, Wurlaki, Ganalpingu, Gupapuyngu, Kunbarlang, Gunnartpa, Burarra and English. In per capita terms, it is perhaps the most multilingual community in the world.

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