Living in East Arnhem offers a different (and wonderful) way of life, according to John Japp FIML, Chief Executive of East Arnhem Regional Council.
As told to Lisa Calautti
Solitude, clear skies, unique animals in their natural surroundings — I think life in East Arnhem is like no other.
Located about 500km from Darwin, East Arnhem is home to nine remote communities – five of them are on islands. East Arnhem’s land mass is equivalent to Tasmania or Belgium — it’s quite large. I have lived in Nhulunbuy, a mining town home to about 2,500 people, for five years. It is distinct from other mining towns. There is lots of fishing, camping, and boating. Every other house has a boat. If you don’t have a boat, then you go to the national parks and go camping, hit the trails and talk to the communities that are camping. Golf is also a favourite hobby.
The traditional owners in East Arnhem live in a time-honoured way. Yes, they have televisions and modern conveniences, but they still enjoy traditional activities such as hunting and gathering, and women enjoy their crafts and artefacts. It is a great experience being able to get right out into the bush and see how the indigenous people hunt, gather and fish as they did thousands of years ago.
You get to witness things that you normally wouldn’t see — flocks of black cockatoos, crested cockatoos, and buffalos in their natural habitats. In many areas, there is no artificial light, and the skies and the sunsets are amazing. It’s the sort of thing you don’t get to see in a big city, or even Darwin for that matter. During the dry season, there is a big tourist drive of people coming through either on their way to or from Kakadu. There’s not much accommodation in East Arnhem, so a cruise ship is an ideal way to visit. You have your meals on board, then you go ashore to look around and go back on the ship again.
East Arnhem’s economic prospects include tourism, with more cruise ships set to stop at our communities, and Sealink Travel Group is looking to start a passenger service. There are also opportunities for more indigenous art exhibitions, and music is always popular (the band Yothu Yindi originated here). There is also small specialised furniture-making industry in Milingimbi, which sells products to south-eastern parts of Australia.
East Arnhem Fact File
Location: Situated in the far north-east corner of the Northern Territory, East Arnhem is home to nine remote communities, including Milingimbi, Ramingining, Galiwin’ku, Gapuwiyak, Yirrkala, Gunyangara, Umbakumba, Angurugu and Milyakburra across about 33,000 square kilometres of land.
Leading industries: Tourism, music, arts, artefacts, furniture, niche fishing.