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Photo of Larrakia men (note the scarification) in Port George, 1916

Larrakia are an indigenous Australian people in and around Darwin in the Northern Territory. The Larrakia, who often refer to themselves as 'Saltwater People,' had a vibrant traditional society based on a close relationship with the sea and trade with neighbouring groups such as the Tiwi, Wadjiginy and Djerimanga. These groups shared ceremonies, songlines and intermarried.


The Larrakia were originally known as the Gulumirrgin.[citation needed]


Larrakiya/Gulumirrgin is one of the Darwin Region languages.[1]


The traditional land of the Larrakia, in Norman Tindale's estimation, covered approximately 1,500 square miles (3,900 km2), and took in the present day capital of Darwin, as well as Southport, Bynoe Harbour and the Howard River. It extended from the Finniss River and Fog Bay in the northeast to the vicinity of Gunn Point, west of the Adam Bay mouth of the Adelaide River. Their hinterland extension ran down south to a depth of 46 miles to a point roughly 10 miles north of Rum Jungle.[2] This last area formed a border, with an interdiction zone of about 8-10 miles deep.[a]

History of contact[edit]

When the first settlers arrived in the Darwin area, the Larrakia provided them with food. Despite conflict and marginalisation, from the beginning the Larrakia participated in the cultural life of the early settlement, and lived in and around the city, before they were moved out to camps further away from the city.

With the passage of the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in the Northern Territory was appointed guardian of all aboriginal and half-caste children until their maturity at 18.The authorities were thus empowered to keep in, or remove from, any reserve, any young Aboriginal, regardless of their parents' or relatives' wishes. In July 1911, on arriving to take up this position in Darwin, Herbert Basedow ordered a survey of aboriginal conditions in and around the town. The Larrakia were found to be the majority of indigenous people in the 8 camps, occupying in particular two near the shore. The corrugated-hut shanties were tidy and the people in relative good health. The inspectors however reported that removals were in order, to relieve the township of these 'eyesores'. Basedow resigned after barely a month on duty.[4]

Recent times[edit]

Today, Larrakia are a vibrant Aboriginal nation numbering around 2,000 people. Larrakia are broadly recognised for their strengths in performance, music and art. Many Larrakia have achieved mainstream success as doctors, lawyers, sportsmen and hold senior positions in government and other organisations. Larrakia feel particularly strongly about their role as traditional owners for the Territory's capital, looking after visitors to their country. The Larrakia have established cultural protocols for visitors to the area. These are visible on Larrakia Nation's website.

Today, it is considered that a Larrakia person should be able to demonstrate their claimed Larrakia heritage via bona fide genealogies with the eight recognised family groups, and are primarily identified by the Larrakia/Aboriginal community in which they live. Some Larrakia people are concerned that non-Larrakia have been included in various land claims. The Kenbi Land Claim proceedings defined Larrakia traditional owners as: 'a descendant of a known Larrakia ancestor and a member of one of the Larrakia families named and listed in the Kenbi Land Claim decision by the Land Commissioner, Justice Gray'.[5][6] The Kenbi definition was formed through legal proceedings and this definition may not be seen as culturally appropriate by some Larrakia.

Larrakia organisations[edit]

The Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation was established in 1997 to represent the traditional owners of Darwin, the Larrakia. It is also the major Aboriginal service delivery organisation for the region. Larrakia Nation has a membership of over 500 people drawn from the various Larrakia families. It is active in the areas of homeless support, community services, arts and culture, research, and rangers. It generates nearly half of its income from fee-for-service and commercial activities. Its vision is "to be a strong, self-sufficient and healthy Nation of Larrakia people, participating fully in the wider economy of Darwin and the Northern Territory, where Larrakia language, law and culture is known, respected and valued by all members of that community"[7]

The Larrakia Development Corporation was established in 2002 by Larrakia people with the support of the Northern Land Council. The Council holds all shares in the organisation in trust for the Larrakia people. The Larrakia Development Corporation does not have a membership base; instead, its mission is enshrined in the Larrakia Development Corporation Trust deed. Its mission is "to promote the financial independence and lifestyle of all Larrakia people through the commercial development of assets and to do so in such a way that promotes employment, training and business opportunities for all Larrakia people". The Larrakia Trade Training Centre is one initiative of the Larrakia Development Corporation[8]

In 1998 Radio Larrakia broadcasting on 94.5 FM, was established to serve the Aboriginal community, broadcasting in over twenty-six Indigenous languages providing local communities with information, interviews, community services, music and programming.[9][10]

The Gwalwa Daraniki Association owns title to the area of Larrakia land which contains the Town Camps of Kulaluk and Minmarama Park.

Land claims[edit]

In October 1972, a thousand Aboriginal people from all states and territories signed the Larrakia Petition, which called for land rights and political representation. Larrakia people attempted to personally present the 3-metre long document to Princess Margaret when she visited Darwin. Finally the people posted it to Queen Elizabeth II. In the petition, Aboriginal people argued that their land was taken by the British settlers, who signed no treaty to acquire it. Without their land they claimed to be refugees in the country of their ancestors.

The Kenbi Land Claim was a land claim under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act by the Larrakia traditional owners of the land, waters and islands encompassing the Cox Peninsula. It was the longest-running land claim in Australia, running for over thirty years.

In December 2000 the Land Commissioner handed up his report regarding the Kenbi Land Claim. He recommended approximately 600 km² be handed back to the Larrakia people. After a record 23 years of struggle, this recommendation was a great victory for Larrakia people. Sadly many of the Larrakia elders died before the claim was finalised. In February 2009 the Northern Territory Government announced that Kenbi would be handed over to the Larrakia traditional owners represented by Raylene Singh, a senior Larrakia traditional owner. At the announcement of the handover, Raylene Singh said that "I will ensure that the land will be protected for all the Larrakia families". In 2016, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull formally handed the land back to the Larrakia people.

In April 2006, a Federal Court of Australia decision denied the Larrakia's native title claim on the basis of "failure to prove continuous connection with the Darwin area". In his reasoning Justice Mansfield argued that there had not been continuous observance of traditional customs and laws. Justice Mansfield's decision was later affirmed on appeal by the Full Federal Court in Risk v Northern Territory of Australia on 5 April 2007.[11]

Alternative spellings[edit]

  • Larrakia.
  • Larakiya, Larakeeyah, Larrakiya, Larrakeah, Larrakeeyah, Larrakiha.
  • Laragia, Larragea.
  • Larrakeeha, Larreekeeyah.
  • Larikia, Larrikia, Larrikiya.
  • Larriquia.
  • Binnimiginda. (term for coastal bands)
  • Gunmajerrumba. (term for inland bands)
  • Marri. (a southern band of the Larrakia).[12]

Some words[edit]

  • dungalaba (crocodile)[13]
  • gunumijtanda. (saltwater)[14]

Prominent Larrakia[edit]


  1. ^ At the forty-six mile on the railway line we pass their southern border, and going through a neutral belt of some eight to ten miles, strictly preserved and upon which none trespass without good reason, at near Rum Jungle enter into the territory of the Awarra.'[3]



Books and Articles
  • Wells, S. (2002) Saltwater People: Larrakia Stories from Around Darwin, Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation
  • Day, B. (1994) Bunji: A story of the Gwalwa Daraniki Movement, AIATSIS

External links[edit]