The Anindilyakwa people were brought to Groote Eylandt on a series of song lines, which created the land, rivers, animals and people, and named everything pertaining to the region, as well as laying down rules of marriage, kinship and ceremonial law.
The Traditional Owners of the Groote Archipelago are an amalgamation of two cultures – the Warnindilyakwa, whom have occupied Groote Eylandt for around 8,000 years, and the Nunggubuyu.The latter, at the invitation of the Warnindilyakwa began their migration to Groote Eylandt in the second half of the 18th century. The Warnindilyakwa and the Nunggubuyu of the Groote Archipelago now constitute a family based collective culture that is bond by Ceremonial participation of two types.
Both cultures speak, as their first language, Anindilyakwa.
The Groote Archipelago Aboriginal culture is now commonly referred to as the Anindilyakwa culture, and the people as the Anindilyakwa people.
The Groote Archipelago also has a rich non-indigenous history. The first non-indigenous visitors were the Macassans, who travelled to the region for hundreds of years in search of trepang. The earliest formally recorded visitor was a Dutchman named William Van Coolstrurdt, who arrived on the ship, “The Arnhem”, in 1623. Van Coolstrurdt was followed by Abel Tasman in 1644, and then by Matthew Flinders in 1803, during his circumnavigation of Australia.
The first major modern historical impact on the Anindilyakwa people came from the arrival of the missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS); first in an exploratory expedition in 1917, and soon after again in 1921, with the establishment of a trading store and mission at Emerald River.
Subsequent to the flooding effects of a cyclone during the monsoonal season of 1943, and the RAAF’s requirements for the use of the airstrip during World War II, the mission was moved inland to what is now known as the township of Angurugu.
Umbakumba, a village on the eastern side of Groote Eylandt, was established in 1938.
Milyakburra, a village on Bickerton Island, was initially established in the late 1970s. By the mid-1980s, it operated as an outstation, and has since grown into a community. In addition to the three main population centres, there are a number of family-based outstations dotting Groote Eylandt.
Today, the ALC is a driving force in the creation of sustainable local economies. The road to self-sustainability began back in 1976, with the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act (ALRA).
At this pivotal time in their history, the Anindilyakwa people became one of the first Australian Aboriginal traditional owner groups, recognised by Australian law, as having inalienable freehold title over the islands within the Groote Archipelago. As a result of the Act (1976), the Northern Land Council (NLC) then became the statutory corporate body responsible for activities
Then in 1991, the Anindilyakwa Land Council was established, taking over most of the role previously held by the Northern Land Council (the NLC remains responsible for Native Title representation).
After the introduction of the ALRA, the Anindilyakwa were granted an inalienable free hold title to the islands of the Groote Archipelago to the high water mark. As a result of the “Blue Mud Bay” decision in 2008, this title now extends to the low water mark. Song lines crucial to the survival of their reincarnationist culture crisscross the sea between Groote Eylandt and the mainland, and many sacred sites exist in the seascape.