The Yolgnu community of Eastern Arnhemland and art lovers widely are celebrating the recognition of the Madarrpa clan leader, Buku-Larrngay Arts Chairman and ANKAAA Chairman, Djambawa Marawili, who received a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia.

The Australia Council also congratulated Mr Marawili, who was a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board from May 2004 “ February 2009.

I feel very honoured, Mr Marawili said. I believe this AM goes not only to myself, but to my fellow ANKAAA members, the ANKAAA Board, Yolngu artists and members of my Madarrpa clan group.

When I became an artist I started with my art centre, Buku Larrnggay Mulka at Yirrkala. I was concentrating on myself and had a little recognition early on. Then I started with ANKAAA as a member and learned more about business and supporting art centres, and I have now been Chairman for 10 years.

ANKAAA is really important. We have our own Board of Aboriginal artists from four regions that covers the Top End of the NT and WA, some 1million square kilometres made up of around 100 language groups. We support our Art Centres and artists to be strong and independent for their own country and culture. I am standing firm as Chairman to work so the voices of Aboriginal artists are heard and to work together, share our knowledge, help each other and our industry.

But the main thing I’d like Napagi (non “ Indigenous people) to understand is that our art, the beautiful paintings, prints and sculptures people buy or see at galleries around the world – this art is informed by our ancient traditions and culture that is our life.

It is the culture that is in my soul, the manikay (song) and bunggul (dance) taught to me by my father and grandfather.

And I know those Judges in the Blue Mud Bay court hearings, when they saw our art, our ceremonies and our traditional land and sea country, it touched them and they understood.

It’s been a few years since the High Court decision granted us inter-tidal sea rights after those hearings, and we are now wanting to see the NT Government and all interested parties move on this. We have a chance to create economic development on our homelands where we grow and nurture our culture and art. We must work together on this so we all can benefit.

Our homelands and Art Centres are our Universities and Art Academies, though they have almost no funding for this role. It’s where our young people learn our culture, all our songs, clan designs and patterns, dances, kinship, names and stories.

Our homelands are where we hold Ngarra, holy ceremonies that honour our spiritual foundation on our land and sea country. These are really big gatherings that bring together people from many clans. It is where we go much more deeply into our sacred places and lands. These ceremonies are what feeds our art, makes it strong and lets it speak of what I am, who we are.

People can feel this in our art. The land cannot talk, but we can speak for it through our artwork and reach across cultures.

I hope this award will help to strengthen the support and understanding of our artists, our traditions and our culture and bring all Australians closer together.