Place names: Manayingkarírra, Manawukan and Maningrida

Manayingkarírra, Manawukan and Maningrida are all names attributed to the country near the mouth of the Liverpool River in northern Arnhem Land, some 500 kilometres north-east of Darwin.

Kunibídji people, who are the traditional owners of this place, call it Manayingkarírra, the name of a little spring near the barge landing. The name comes from the Kunibídji phrase mane djang karirra, meaning ‘the place where the ancestral totemic beings changed shape’. Manayingkarírra is said like this: man-ai-ying-ga-rida (where ‘man’ rhymes with ‘fun’, and ‘ai’ rhymes with ‘my’).

The neighbouring Kuninjku people call this place Manawukan, a name associated with a wetland area to the north-east of Maningrida. Manawukan is said like this: man-a-woo-gun (where ‘gun’ rhymes with ‘fun’).

Maningrida is a name that has come into use only in the recent past. It is an English-language version of Manayingkarírra. Maningrida is said like this: man-in-gri-da.

The township of Maningrida

A trading post was set up at Manayingkarírra / Manawukan in 1949, and it was made into a permanent settlement called Maningrida by the Northern Territory’s welfare department in 1957.

The Federal Government’s welfare and assimilation policies brought Aboriginal people from surrounding clan estates in to the settlement, quickly and drastically altering the demographics of the area, and straining traditional rivalries. Further tensions were sparked by the rapidly growing presence of Balanda (non-Indigenous people), who were given modern housing, jobs and other benefits.

The government envisaged forestry, fishing and mining industries in the region and rapidly embarked on setting up enterprises with minimal or no consultation with the Aboriginal people whose land was co-opted. Within four years, an ill-conceived forestry industry was in operation, the legacy of which – the rusting conical stack of its saw mill – remains in the township.

The outstation / homelands movement

For Aboriginal people whose country was outside Maningrida, there was always the prospect of leaving the settlement, and some groups of people were already spending at least part of the year back on their own country. By the late 1960s, the ‘outstation movement’ was forcing issues of inequality, power and control.

Between 1970 and 1974, the number of Balanda living in Maningrida increased from about 40 to 250 people.1 Jack Mirritji spoke for many local people when he said: ‘This place him grow too quickly.’2

In the early 1970s, the Labor Government introduced a policy of self-determination, but in Maningrida, the Balanda population, including public servants, was deeply divided: some supported self-determination and the outstation movement, others were fiercely opposed. Some local people opted to move back to their clan estates, and this was the impetus for the establishment of Bawinanga.

After the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act in 1976, even more local people returned to their homelands. Bawinanga was formally incorporated in 1979 to strengthen its capacity to support its members –landowners and families of the clan estates surrounding Manayingkarírra / Manawukan – to live on their homelands, either seasonally or permanently, and in the context of their traditional land management practices, cultural responsibilities and languages.

The integral relationship that people hold with their country continues to define and govern the social, cultural, spiritual and territorial aspects of people’s lives. Ceremony remains an important part of life, society is organised according to kinship groups, people continue to speak their own languages, and they are caring for their country through sustainable living and land and sea management practices.

1 NT News, 12 July 1974, cited in Maningrida: a history of the Aboriginal township in Arnhem Land, Helen Bond-Sharp, 2013, p. 168.

2 Maningrida Mirage, 6 June 1974, cited in Bond-Sharp, p. 169.