The Alawa people are an Indigenous Australian people from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Australia. The suburb of Alawa in the Darwin's north, is named in their honour.

Total population
possibly several hundred
(Less than 1% of the Australian population)
Regions with significant populations
(Northern Territory)
Alawa language, English, Australian Kriol language
Aboriginal mythology
Related ethnic groups
Ngandji people


The Alawa language is a non Pama-Nyungan language, classified by Jeffrey Heath as one of three of a subgroup, together with Marra and Warndarang, though this is now contested.[1] It had only 18 speakers in a report dated 1991 (Ethnologue). That number was reduced to 12 by 2013. The speakers of Alawa are mainly adults, and most Alawa speak Kriol, though there are Alawa language revival efforts at the Minyerri School in the Alawa community.


Traditional Alawa territory covered some 1,600 square miles (4,100 km2) and extended from the southern tributaries of the Roper River upstream from the mouth of the Hodgson River west to Roper valley; south to Mason Bluff (Mount Mueller) and Hodgson Downs; east to the headwaters of Mountain Creek.[2]


The traditional lifestyle of the Alawa consisted in harvesting and hunting the abundant food resources provided by their land which was rich in species of turtle, duck, crocodiles, and fish. They had a technique of conserving foods for considerable periods. Tindale was shown in 1922 a refuge cave they maintained at Mountain Creek well stocked with buried stores of water lily seeds,[2] and roots, which were first sub.dried, then rubbed with red ochre before being wrapped and packed in paperbark sheets.[3] After the loss of their lands they specialized in working as jackaroos on pastoral stations.


The Alawa tribe, like many others in the Roper River region, were hunted down in an extermination policy developed by the pastoral company that took over the Hodgson Downs in 1903, and remnants took refuge from the killing teams by seeking the protection of pastoralists who would employ them, or on church missions.[4]

Native title

Together with the Ngandji people, the descendants of the Alawa have laid a native title claim to the Cox River block.



    1. Sharpe 2008, p. 59.
    2. Tindale 1974.
    3. Clarke 2011, p. 177.
    4. Edmonds 2007, pp. 194–195.


    • Clarke, Philip A. (2011). Aboriginal People and Their Plants. Rosenberg Publishing. ISBN 978-1-921719-73-8.
    • Edmonds, Angelique (2007). "Sedentary topography: the impact of Christian Mission Society's 'civilising' agenda on the spatial structure of life in the Roper Region of northern Australia". In Macfarlane, Ingereth; Hannah, Mark (eds.). Transgressions: Critical Australian Indigenous Histories. Australian National University. pp. 193–209. ISBN 978-1-921313-43-1.
    • Sharpe, Margaret (2008). "Alawa and its Neighbours: Enigma Variations 1 and 2". In Bowern, Claire; Evans, Bethwyn; Miceli, Luisa (eds.). Morphology and Language History: In Honour of Harold Koch. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 59–70. ISBN 978-90-272-4814-5.
    • Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Alawa (NT)". Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Australian National University Press. ISBN 978-0-7081-0741-6.
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