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'Burrmalala': Indigenous cyclone knowledge shared in Arnhem Land film

By Felicity James, Sunday October 8, 2017 - 17:30 EDT
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Andrew Galitju Burarrwanga (L) and James Wapiriny Gurruwiwi were both involved in the film's production. - ABC

A film about Yolngu knowledge of cyclones, or Burrmalala, has been launched in Arnhem Land in preparation for the coming cyclone season.

In Wata Burrmalala — Cyclone Culture, residents from Ramingining and Milingimbi communities talk about how their ancestors' ancient knowledge contrasts with modern weather tracking.

The film aims to share this knowledge with younger residents, along with warnings about responding to cyclones in modern times.

"All of those information sources are in English," one resident said.

"They use many technical or academic words — it's very difficult and often meaningless."

Both communities were hit by category four Cyclone Lam, followed by the less severe Cyclone Nathan, in 2015.

Yolngu men, James Wapiriny Gurruwiwi from the Galpu clan and Andrew Galitju Burarrwanga from the Gumatj clan, were both involved in the film's production.

"It's important for people to learn, the younger generation today — some, they don't know these stories," Mr Gurruwiwi said.

As a boy, during the so-called "mission days", Mr Gurruwiwi asked his grandmothers how they predicted cyclones.

"No radar, no satellite, no tracking," he said.

"They just feel the land itself and they straight away know.

"They see birds flying because birds know that something heavy is coming, they know, and sometimes they see water, just breathing, the swell just rising without breaking."

Yolngu clan members regard Burrmalala as a troublesome family member.

In the ceremony for the cyclone, the white cockatoo or "Lorrpu" senses the danger approaching.

"Cyclone is my waku. It's like I'm his mother, he comes from my belly," Mr Gurruwiwi said.

"It's my child, that cyclone, Burrmalala."

Burrmalala is owned by the Daygurrgurr Gupapuyngu clan, swallowing up the smaller winds of other clans, according to residents in the film.

More than 150 Yolngu were involved in producing Wata Burrmalala - Cyclone Culture, including staff from the ARDS Aboriginal Corporation who wrote, directed, filmed and edited the film.

The Northern Territory's official cyclone season begins in November.


© ABC 2017

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