The Yirrkala Statement was handed to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at Yirrkala on 23 July 2008. As reported by Lindsay Murdoch in the Sydney Morning Herald the next day, Prime Minister Rudd told the gathering—representing 8000 people from across north-east Arnhem Land that:
… he intended to honour an election promise to recognise the rights of Aboriginal people in the constitution. He said it was time to “give attention to detailed, sensitive consultation with indigenous communities about the most appropriate form and timing of constitutional recognition.
Murdoch wrote that Rudd told the meeting that he intended to honour his election promise to recognise the rights of Aboriginal people in the constitution, and that:
… it was time to “give attention to detailed, sensitive consultation with indigenous communities about the most appropriate form and timing of constitutional recognition”.
In the 2008/2009 summer edition of The Monthly Galarrwuy Yunupingu, as part of a long and thoughtful essay that reflected on his personal history, recorded his memories of that day.
It’s July 2008 and I wait for the new prime minister, Kevin Rudd. An event is taking place at Yirrkala and I have called the leaders of the 13 clans together. No children or young people will participate, only leaders, men and women who have proved themselves: delak.
By my side are Djinyini Gondarra and the leaders of the Elcho clans, Richard Ganduwuy and Dunga Dunga Gondarra, Butharripi Gurruwiwi. Wilson Ganambarr, Gali Gurruwiwi, Gekurr Guyula and Timmy Burrawanga are there. Laklak and Dhuwarrwarr Marika are there, too, along with the great old man from Gan Gan, Garrawan Gumana. My cousin Banambi Wunungmurra brings the prime minister down to us.
We have a petition for him.
Yolngu Matha Text of the Yirrkala Statement
Nhanaburru, wangkanmala bapurru dhimirrunguru, arnhemland, nganaburrungu ngurrngu delak mala, nganthun yukurra nhuna 26th Prime Minister Australia-wu. Nhukala ganydjarr’yu nhunhi nhe ngurrungu walalangu malangura nhuma walala rrambangi, Australian Parliament-ngura, ga ngurrungu Dharuk-mirri nhangu Garraywu Queen Elizabeth-gu, yurru nhandarryun-marama djinawa-lili Australian-dhu luku-wu rom-dhu yurru dharangan ga galmuma nganapurrungu dhangang ga bukmak nha-mala nhanapurrungu:
Nhanapurrungu, wanga, wanga-ngaraka ga nguy gapu, ngunhi dhimirrunguru, arnhemland.
Dharrima gungnharra, warkthunara, lukunydja rrupiya-yu wanga-wuy-ga gapu-wuy ga dhangangnha-yana ga lukunydjana yana.
Dharray walnga-wuy ga djaka yurru nhanapurrung-gala-nguwu djamarrkuli-wu yalalangu-wu.Dhuwalanydja rom dhuwalana bilina.
Dhuwalanydja rom wawungu wanga-wuy ngandarryunmarama Australian-gala bapurrulili.
Nganapurru marrliliyama nhukula ngurru-warryun-narayngu, marr yurru Commonwealth Parliament ngurru warrwun ga dharangan dhuwala rom ga marryuwak gumana dhayutakumana lukunydja rom.
English Text of the Yirrkala Statement
We, the united clans of East Arnhem land, through our most senior delak, do humbly petition you, the 26th Prime Minister of Australia, in your capacity as the first amongst equals in the Australian Parliament, and as the chief adviser to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, to secure within the Australian Constitution the recognition and protection of our full and complete right to:
Our way of life in all its diversity;
Our property, being the lands and waters of East Arnhem land;
Economic independence, through the proper use of the riches of our land and waters in all their abundance and wealth;
Control of our lives and responsibility for our children’s future.These rights are self-evident.
These rights are fundamental to our place within the Australian nation.
We ask for your leadership to have the Commonwealth Parliament start the process of recognition of these rights through serious constitutional reform.
For further reading on this and earlier statements and petitions from north-east Arnhem Land see the article Bark petitions: Indigenous art and reform for the rights of Indigenous Australians at the Australian government website.
Follow the links below to see the rest of the documents in this series.