As some on Birding Aus will know I am a member of an Aboriginal clan. What
many won’t know is that using birdwatching as a vehicle Aboriginal relatives
and I were able to introduce traditional owners in western Arnhem Land and
elsewhere to an appropriate form of visitation that gave them confidence in
dealings with the wider world, and revised their thinking about white people.
Key people in this process were Larrakia elder, Stephanie Nganjmirra Thompson,
my daughter-in-law, and her husband Reverend P. Nganjmirra. We lost Djedje
(meaning ‘my child’), her husband, some years ago and now Stephanie is dying.
Visiting birders, particularly couples, were instrumental in helping Stephanie
and me begin to break down the hate and distrust that many felt towards white
people. Together we put Kunwinjku language and values into the context of Top
End fauna, particularly birds, in a number of books, one of which has been a
‘core text’ for the University of NSW summer school since 2000. We would not
have contributed to the Lonely Planet’s Guide to Aboriginal Australia but for
Stephanie. When the editor said my services were not wanted (but for
recruitment) because I was not ‘Aboriginal’, Stephanie told her that there
would be no Kunwinjku involvement without me, her mother-in-law.
There were many other battles. Stephanie belongs to a very small group of
people known as the ‘true’ Larrakia. They are also called the ‘forgotten
Larrakia’ because despite having no other ancestry, they were left out of the
Kenbi Land Claim, over Darwin. And our best efforts to bring true some of her
biggest wishes, for example to be involved in university education, failed.
But we kept on trying. And a Birding Ausser was at least able to make one
dream come true. Ed Williams, that trip to Melbourne to meet the footballers
made such an impression. You and others helped make Stephanie and by
association the rest of the ‘forgotten’ Larrakia, a little less forgotten. ,
Stephanie helped her husband persuade Kunwinjku that having birders and others
visit Baby Dreaming, his mother’s country, would be a good thing. And so it
was. That visitation, mainly by international birding couples, changed
thinking about white people like little else could have done. It gave
traditional owners the courage to confront, for example, an abusive police
So thank you to those of you who supported and believed us, to Penny who
accompanied a friend and me to Arnhem Land and found herself helping to feed
all my little relatives, to Bruce who captured Stephanie’s sister’s heart, and
became the first birder in all my decades of guiding, to be adopted. Bruce,
your daughter-in-law Una, can’t wait to see you again.
To those of you who liked my books, particularly Birds of Australia’s Top End,
thank you. To Kunwinjku elders who wanted me to publicise their language and
way of thinking about birds, that book was most important.
As for Stephanie and her family, if anyone has a personal message they would
like me to forward to her family, I would be pleased to do so.
Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
PO Box 71
Darwin River, NT, Australia 0841
043 8650 835
PhD candidate, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.
Founding Member: Ecotourism Australia
Nominated by Earthfoot for Condé Nast’s International Ecotourism Award, 2004.
With every introduction of a plant or animal that goes feral this continent
becomes a little less unique, a little less Australian.
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