Back Roads: Mar 5

Guest Rae Johnston discovers a remote and tiny community that punches above its weight on the international stage, in music, art, science, politics & culture.

In the first of a special Back Roads two-part series, science journalist and Wiradjuri woman, Rae Johnston, travels to Yirrkala on the coastal fringes of East Arnhem Land to meet a a community world renowned for its music, art and culture.

If you’ve never heard of the Yolngu, you may have heard of Yothu Yindi, King Stingray, Baker Boy….all Yolngu. On a Yirrkala beach, founding member of Yothu Yindi, Witiyana Marika, tells Rae that their strong, unbroken cultural traditions lie at the heart of Yolngu prominence.

Further north on the Gove Peninsula, she meets rising music stars, the Andrew Gurruwiwi Band and revels in a private concert on one the regions many stunning beaches.

But when she’s invited by respected elder, Mandaka Marika, to one of the most remote coastal stretches of East Arnhem Land, Rae is shocked to find an ecological disaster unfolding. Wave after wave of plastic waste is washed up on the white sands every year and it’s an uphill battle for the Yolngu rangers, men and women, who work tirelessly to preserve country, rich in culture, food and bush medicine.

In Yirrkala itself, Rae meets two rising stars of the art world at the prestigious Buku Larrnggay Mulka Centre. She discovers the Yolngu aren’t afraid to move to the future, even while holding dear their cultural traditions.

This thought is bolstered by youngsters from one of the local primary schools whose team of 10-year-olds made it to the World Robotics Championships in Texas in 2023 – despite robotics only being introduced as a subject the year before.

There is one more secret to Yolngu success – and when Rae is invited to attend a Bunggul, Yolngu for ceremony, she realises the dance encapsulates that in the most spectacular and heartwarming fashion.

8pm Tuesday on ABC.

Leave a Reply