June Wilson has been one of the weavers working for Maningrida Arts.
The town of Maningrida lies on the estuary of the Liverpool River, on the coast of Arnhem Land. The Kunibídji people are the traditional landowners of this country. The name Maningrida is an Anglicised version of the Kunibídji name Manayingkarírra, which comes from the phrase Mane djang karirra, meaning ‘the place where the dreaming changed shape’.
The township of Maningrida dates back to just after the second world war when Welfare Branch patrol officers Sid Kyle-Little and Jack Doolan were sent by the Government to set up a ration-cum-trade post there. This was converted by Dave and Ingrid Drysdale into a permanent Welfare Department settlement from 1957, partly to quell the post-war migration of Aboriginal people from the Blyth and Liverpool Rivers regions into Darwin. Patrols went out to spread the word and encourage people to move into the settlement. Within a few years many people from the surrounding area lived in Maningrida.
However there were exceptions, the most notable being Rembarrnga/ Dangbon leader Mandarrk and his family who stayed ‘out bush’ at Dumangerre and Yayminyi and maintained their traditional way of life.
With settlement life at Maningrida came a profound change in people’s living arrangements, as the scattered population of numerous language groups came to be concentrated in one area. Tensions between these different groups, which had been diffused by distance, were exacerbated by the conditions in Maningrida, and people eventually tired of the conditions of settlement life.
In the early 1970s, the Woodward Land Rights Commission, the election of the Whitlam government and the creation of the Land Rights Flag in 1971 raised the profile of land rights as an important issue.
With this growing understanding of the political dimensions of land tenure, and with the changes to government policy, many people started moving back to their homelands, away from the concentrated population at Maningrida. The Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation was established in its original form in the early 1970s as a support agency for those Aboriginal people who chose to live on their clan estates rather than in the settlement.
The north central Arnhem Land area now serviced by Maningrida extends from Marrkolidjban in Eastern Kunwinjku country to the west, to Berriba in Dangbon country in the south, and over as far as Yinangarnduwa, or Cape Stewart, in the east. In per capita terms, it is perhaps the most multilingual community in the world; the linguistic variety is echoed by the cultural diversity in the area, evidenced by the number of different religious ceremonies and the multitude of artistic forms in design, music and dance.