Laklak giving her speech in Yirrkala following the Yolngu ceremony. Credit: Sandie Suchet-Pearson
Laklak giving her speech in Yirrkala following the Yolngu ceremony. Credit: Sandie Suchet-Pearson

The Bawaka Collective

Kate Lloyd (PACE and Department of Geography and Planning) and Sandie Suchet-Pearson (Department of Geography and Planning) are part of an academic-Indigenous, more-than-human research collaboration working with Sarah Wright (University of Newcastle), and five Indigenous Yolngu women from Bawaka homeland in northeast Arnhem Land: Laklak Burarrwanga, Ritjilili Ganambarr, Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, Banbapuy Ganambarr and Djawundil Maymuru. Bawaka Country is the diverse land, water, human and nonhuman animals (including the human members of the collective), plants, rocks, currents, winds, thoughts and songs that make up the Indigenous homeland of Bawaka.

Since 2007 their collaboration has focused on the transformative potential of Indigenous-led tourism to strengthen communities, progress self-determination and contribute towards inter-cultural understandings through the communication of Yolngu knowledge for non-Indigenous audiences. Their collaboration is based on the development of trust, respect and mutual benefits.

The research collective has written 2 books and numerous academic and popular articles together. Their most recent book, Welcome to My Country, has sold more than 10,000 copies and appeals to academic and more popular audiences. It provides a rich understanding of some of the patterns, relationships, motions, and rhythms of time and space that underpin the ways that Yolŋu relate to their country. They are currently working on a book called Songspirals.

“Ours is a story of lives entwined and of new places of co-becoming and belonging” said Sandie Suchet-Pearson, “It is also a collaborative narrative of unexpected transformations, embedded families and the spirituality and agency of nonhuman elements in, of and as the landscape.”

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Laklak on the day of the Graduation Ceremony surrounded by her family – sisters Banbapuy (left) and Ritjilili (right), daughter Djawundil (right of Laklak) and granddaughter Anita (to left of Laklak)

Laklak Burarrwanga, Elder, caretaker and eldest sister, is the collective’s leader and mentor. Laklak has the right and cultural obligation to share aspects of her knowledge with others. In 2016 Macquarie University honoured Laklak  as an important Indigenous knowledge holder and recognised her contributions to knowledge and understanding by awarding her an Honorary Doctorate. This was celebrated in two ceremonies – the first was an incredibly moving, memorable and significant moment as the Yolŋu community honoured Laklak’s deep knowledge and two worlds come together.

As Djawa, Laklak’s son explained the night before the ceremony, thousands of generations of knowledge, thousands of generations of teachers, thousands of generations of the land – past, present and future … all in one place, one special place, in Yirrkala to celebrate one special woman – Laklak Burarrwanga.

The second ceremony was Macquarie University formal conferring of Laklak’s Honorary Doctorate during a September Graduation Ceremony. Here Macquarie acknowledged Laklak’s contribution to research and leadership, recognising the incredible role Laklak plays in leading the award-winning Bawaka Collective.

The graduation ceremony at which Laklak Burarrwanga received her honorary doctorate.