The Yolŋu (pronounced yol-noo) people of North East Arnhem Land are members of the oldest living culture on the planet, dating back at least 50,000 years. As such, they have a time-tested belief system and knowledge base about land and culture and how the two should relate to each other. Trading and intermarrying with the Macassan people of Indonesia between 1100 and 1600 AD, the Yolŋu is a unique cultural group that was unknown to Western culture until anthropologist Donald Thomson introduced it to the world in the 1930s.
Arnhem Land requires visitor permits to enter; therefore the Aboriginal lands and cultures here are much better preserved than in other parts of Australia. The best way to truly connect with this special place and its people is through an indigenous-owned tour operator such as Lirrwi Tourism, which is playing an important role in allowing Aboriginal people to stay on their native lands. A number of excursions take in the remote coastlines, rugged escarpments, teeming billabongs and monsoon rainforests of the 37,500-square-mile area that's home to rare flora and fauna, including saltwater crocodiles, sea turtles and dugong.
On the six-night Gay’Wu "Dilly Bag" tour, women and girls are introduced to the weaving, painting, astrology, cooking, bush medicine and dancing traditions of the female Yolŋu in addition to a crying ceremony (Nathi), while the Crossing Country tour visits three different remote homelands in the span of a week. There are also shorter experiences such as a custom-length art tour that explores some of the most prized bark paintings, pandanus weavings and didgeridoos in the country, all on display and for sale at the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre in Yirrkala.
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Tour the Wild Coastlines of Arnhem Land
This timeless place is one of the world’s least explored gems, encompassing some 37,451 miles at the intersection of Kakadu, the Arafura Sea, and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Arnhem Land abounds in wild coastlines, hidden bays, and islands that combine to make it a haven for fishermen and beach-lovers. To achieve full immersion, book a tour with Lirwii Tourism and visit a Yolŋu Homeland, or head to Banubanu Wilderness Retreat amid the white-sand beaches of East Arnhem Land. It’s one of the last strongholds of traditional Aboriginal culture.