Residents from a remote Northern Territory Indigenous community say fishermen are not respecting requests to stay away from a highly-sensitive cultural ceremony, which is currently being held near a popular Top End river. Traditional owners from the Ngukurr community, 320 kilometres south-east of Katherine, are about halfway through the eight to 12 week ceremony, at a site close to the Roper River.  The ceremony is secret and sacred, and what goes on is not for public consumption

Yugul Mangi Aboriginal Corporation CEO Bill Blackley says there’s been tension between some locals and anglers visiting the area in recent weeks.

“There are some people who are travelling at speed through the river, over to the side where the ceremony is on, causing some degree of distress,” he said.

“It upsets the Indigenous people, the elders, the people who own that ceremony.

“What it does is just insult them, and it hurts them deeply when these things happen.

“It’s not good for reconciliation, it’s not good for a community where white Australians and Indigenous Australians live side-by-side, and rely on each other for all kinds of things.”

“In the interests of harmony, and a rich and wonderful Australia, we ask that they observe those simple things. It’s not much to ask.”

Fishermen say no disrespect intended

Information about the ceremony has been posted at nearby visitor sites, including the Munbillilla (Tomato Island) campground, about five kilometres downstream of Ngukurr.

Manager Mark Lewis says while there has not been an intentional lack of respect from his fishing customers, there may have been a few misunderstandings.

“I think if there was any trouble from this end, it may have been a couple of people who didn’t get the information,” he said.

“Therefore they sort of went into the area we’ve been asked not to.

Their tradition has been here for a long time, we certainly don’t want to interfere with it, or cause any grief

Mark Lewis, Munbililla campground manager
“You must realise these are older people here, retirees, grey nomads, whatever you like to call them.

“They just got a little bit frightened when they were confronted by some men who perhaps thought we weren’t respecting the traditions of the Ngukurr people.

“But they just went there because at the time it was unknown to them. They didn’t do it again. It’s as simple as that.”

Mr Lewis says while the request for privacy is a reasonable one, the rights of the fishermen should also be considered.

“Their tradition has been here for a long time. We certainly don’t want to interfere with it, or cause any grief,” he said.

“On the other hand, the people here do have a right to the river.

“But there’s absolutely no tension here now whatsoever.”

Read more about this story at ABC Rural.


Land use and access and recognition of Indigenous culture will be discussed at the Developing Northern Australia Conference, Townsville.