Elcho Island

Elcho Island, known to its traditional owners as Galiwin'ku,[1] is an island off the coast of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia. It is located at the southern end of the Wessel Islands group located in the East Arnhem Region. Galiwin'ku is also the name of the settlement where the island's largest community lives. Elcho island formed part of the traditional lands of the Yan-nhaŋu, according to Norman Tindale. According to J. C. Jennison, the Aboriginal inhabitants were the Dhuwal, who he said called themselves the Kokalango Mala (mala=clan.)[2]


Elcho Island is approximately 60 km long and 6 km across at its widest point.[3] It is bounded on the western side by the Arafura Sea and on the east by the Cadell Strait. Elcho Island is a short distance away from the mainland and Howard Island.

Galiwin'ku, located near the island's southern tip, is the main community on the island. It is the largest and most remote Aboriginal community in northeast Arnhem Land, the second largest Aboriginal community (in terms of concentrated population) in the Northern Territory, and ranks eleventh in population of the 69 local government bodies in the Territory. There are 60 mala or hereditary tribal groups,[3] with up to 22 different dialects being used in the community. The lingua franca is now Djambarrpuyngu.[4] The people of Galiwin'ku, approximately 2,000 residents, retain their traditions and culture. These are passed to future generations by adherence to strict traditional methods and education, including a means to help them embrace the wider Australian community.

There are also many outstations including Inglis Island on the namesake island and Matamata, Maparru, and Gariyak on the mainland. The island has a base population of 2,200 people, including 70 non-Aboriginal people. It was the home of the late Aboriginal folk musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. The population of Galiwin'ku varies during the seasons, with many outstation residents migrating to the community during the wet season due to inaccessibility. The community also serves approximately 25 outstations with a total population of approx. 450 people, with 12 of the outstations on Elcho Island, which are listed from north to south:

  1. Nanyingburra[5]
  2. Gawa (Gäwa)[3]
  3. Ban'thula (Gampura)[3]
  4. Djurranalpi (Djanalpi)[3]
  5. Dharawa
  6. Gitan[5]
  7. Gulmarri
  8. Watdagawuy
  9. Dhayirri
  10. DyawiliFirst Creek)[3]
  11. Dadupu
  12. Galawarra

Galiwin'ku is a traditional Aboriginal community with restricted access; permission to visit is required by law and can be made through the Northern Land Council directly or via the Galiwin'ku Council. Total alcohol restrictions apply and there is no gasoline available on the island; all gasoline-powered vehicles use the low-aromatic petrol "Opal" as a fuel substitute.

The settlement was originally established as a Methodist mission in 1942, with the arrival of Harold Shepherdson, a lay associate of the Methodist Overseas Mission from Milingimbi. It remained under Church direction until 1974 when it became self-managed. Eighteen connected clan groups within the Elcho Island locale have close cultural ties with mainland Arnhem Land clans and language groups. The most commonly spoken languages are Djambarrpuyngu and Gupapuyngu (both Yolngu Matha languages). However, there are at least twelve more languages in use in the region.

The island is served by Elcho Island Airport.


According to the 2016 census of Population, there were 2,206 people in Elcho Island (counted as Galiwinku (State Suburb) in the Census Report).

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 94.0% of the population.
  • 97.7% of people were born in Australia.
  • 78.1% of people spoke Djambarrpuyngu at home. 4.9% of people only spoke English at home.
  • The most common response for religion was Uniting Church at 86.8%.
  • 42.2% of the population is under 20 years of age, with 14% over 50.[6]

Elcho Island Djuki Mala Dancers

In 2007 a group of local Elcho Island dancers choreographed and performed a dance routine to Zorba the Greek.[7] The performance was recorded and uploaded to YouTube on 2 November of that year; in six weeks the video received more than 360,000 views, averaging 8,000 a day.[8] Due to this success the group toured parts of Queensland and performed in the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney in June 2008.[9] They also appeared as the opening act at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala 2009.

Discovery of an ancient coin

In 2018 a coin, thought to be from the Medieval Kilwa sultanate was found on a beach on Elcho Island by archaeologist and member of the Past Masters, Mike Hermes. Similar coins have been found on Marchinbar Island, also in the Wessel Islands group.[10]

Cultural references

Elcho Island was the inspiration for the song "My Island Home" originally written by Neil Murray for the Warumpi Band. The song was later covered by Christine Anu and she performed her rendition at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games.[11]

A memorial ceremony for George Burrarrawanga, one of the founding members of the Warumpi Band, was performed on the island in June 2007.[12]

Notable people

See also



    1. Bauer 2014, p. 54.
    2. Jennison 1927, pp. 177,179.
    3. Bauer 2014, p. 56.
    4. Bauer 2014, p. 46.
    5. Karp 1987.
    6. QuickStats 2017.
    7. Tamisari 2010, pp. 61–72.
    8. Tamisari 2010, p. 65.
    9. Tamisari 2010, pp. 67–68.
    10. Stevenson, Kylie (11 May 2019). "'It could change everything': coin found off northern Australia may be from pre-1400 Africa". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
    11. Stratton 2013, pp. 33–34.
    12. Burrarrawanga 2007.


    This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.