Message from Djiniyini Gondarra and on behalf of the Yolngu Nations Assembly and the people of Arnhem Land
Djiniyini Gondarra, predominantly with Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, but with many other First Nations leaders also, came to know Michele through her leadership of ‘concerned Australians’ and the actions this group took for the self–determination of Indigenous Peoples… in the context of refuting the Intervention and Stronger Futures policies of the Federal government. Some of these actions included Elders forums in Melbourne… that allowed city people to hear straight what Elders thought of government policy…, representation to the United Nations in Geneva, the ‘cA’ hosted a Darwin forum for NT First Nations leaders with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Maningrida hearing of the Senate Inquiry into Stronger Futures measures…, and Michele’s support for the Yolngu Nations Assembly… from its inaugural assembly in 2011 to the time of her passing on.
Djiniyini is a Yolngu man of East Arnhem Land, and a Law Man with the title of Djirrikaymirr- making him a ‘judge’ within the Maḏayin system of law. Djiniyini is also one of three spokespersons for the Yolngu Nations Assembly.
Yolngu convention does not allow a person who has passed on to be named out loud for the period of mourning. For this reason Michele is referred to by her skin name, Wämutjan, in the following message from Djiniyini… and on behalf of the Yolngu Nations Assembly and the people of Arnhem Land.
I first met Wämutjan… and Ed… when they welcomed me into their house when visiting Melbourne. After this time I adopted Wämutjan as my gäthu daughter and Ed as my nephew waku (the proper kinship for the two to be married)… I met these people and they became family.
I trusted Wämutjan, I had faith in her. She was a freedom fighter in our struggle and I, like many in our region, came to rely on her to keep us up to date… she was the first person I spoke to to find out what was going on… Wämutjan was like that…, while organising so many events that helped us, she also worked endlessly on the small things - (getting) our message out... sending emails and advocating by phone.
I never met a person who knew… so well… what she was doing. [When navigating Western world systems we are sometimes stumped… she would offer us ways forward].
Wämutjan’s legacy will always be there… her fight for freedom for Aboriginal people… to walk with pride and dignity… she always said it will turn your way some day [keep going]… and this is what she did, she helped make political room for us and by doing this she created hope for Yolngu people, Pitjantjantjara, Koori, Murri… all Aboriginal people.
Wämutjan was amazing, we love her because she shared our feelings and pain. She stood in solidarity… even when she had bad health problems.
For my people I am now anxious… Who will follow… our struggle continues…, 99 year leases… the situation in WA and the closure of communities... we remain worried and beset…. I look forward and hope that someone or some others stand up to the place she held… that solidarity… that place in the city we can come and feel at home.
Wämutjan had a great heart for Yolngu people… not only us but Aboriginal people all across Australia.
I will miss her, with my waku Ed, they opened their house and their heart to me.
I miss her, as my daughter, my sister, my close friend… my colleague. I miss her.
Yolngu Nations Assembly and the people of Arnhem Land appreciate everything that she has done.
My love to Ed, my waku, and Wämutjan’s family… from me, her sisters… Dianne Bitjalawuy, Rita Wopurruwuy, Stephanie Ŋaŋalawuy…. Her brothers… Paul Djaypuŋ, Terrance Bulkuwuy… and all the Gondarra family.