Raymattja Marika

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Raymattja Marika AM (c. 1959 – 11 May 2008[1]) was an Australian Yolngu aboriginal leader, scholar, educator, translator, linguist and cultural advocate. She was a Director of Reconciliation Australia and a member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.[1] She was also a director of the Yothu Yindi Foundation and a participant in the 2020 Summit, which was held in April 2008.[2] Marika advocated understanding and reconciliation between Aboriginal and Western cultures.

Marika was the eldest daughter of Eunice and Roy Marika, a prominent leader in the land rights campaign for Australian Aborigines.[2][3] She was also the niece of painter and actor Wandjuk Marika (OBE).[4] She was born into the Rirratjingu clan of the Yolngu Indigenous Australians of the Northern Territory of Australia.[2] She lost a leg to cancer when she was young.[2] She graduated and held degrees from the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and Melbourne University.[1][3] Marika was a native of Yirrkala, Northern Territory in Arnhem Land.[2]


Marika became a scholar, translator, linguist and cultural defender for the rights of Indigenous Australians. Many of her writings appeared in nationwide and she lectured throughout Australia.[2] She devoted her professional career to educations and worked to bridge the gap between Australia's aboriginal society's, especially her native Yolngu, and the wider English-speaking mainstream society.[2] She taught at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, which awarded her an honorary doctorate.[1]

Marika was considered a leading expert of Yolngu customs and languages in northeast Arnhem Land, including the community of Yirrkala and the Gove Peninsula.[2] She was considered to be an expert in the inner workings and history of the Yolngu clan systems of Arnhem Land.[2] Marika, herself, was a member of the Rirratjingu clan of the Yolngu people.[2] She also worked to preserve the traditional storytelling of the Yolngu, often comparing the morals and insights of Yolngu traditions with ideas from the Western world.[2]

Marika understood the pressures placed on the Yolngu's small language group, called Yolŋu Matha, due to bauxite mining in the area, which commenced during the 20th century.[2] She worked as a linguist to prevent the extinction of her people's indigenous languages. Pertaining to the languages of her own clan, Marika understood all fourteen languages of the Rirratjingu clan, and spoke three of these Rirratjingu languages fluently.[1] She later helped to develop a traditional language curriculum for Yolngu children to preserve local languages.[1]

Marika also focused much of her attention on her native community of Yirrkala. She co-founded the Dhimurru Land Management Aboriginal Corporation, a land management group, in 1992 with her late husband, Mununggurritj, and remained the group's cultural adviser for many years.[2]

Raymattja Marika was awarded two awards for her work in 2006 by the National Australia Day Council: the Territorian of the Year award and the Northern Territory's Australian of the Year Award.[1][5]


Marika suddenly died in Yirrkala in Northern Territory, while hunting with members of her family in the afternoon on Sunday, 11 May 2008.[1] She was believed to have died from a sudden heart attack.[1][3] She was just 49 years old when she died and was survived by her three children, whom she had with her late husband, Mununggurritj.[1]

Barbara Livesey, the current head of Reconciliation Australia, said that Marika had made massive contributions to Aboriginal affairs across the country, "While we know that she did much work in her community, at the national level she was just a tireless worker for reconciliation and for building understanding between non-Indigenous people, Yolngu people and other Indigenous people."[3] Syd Stirling, the MP for Nhulunbuy in Northern Territory, also paid tribute to Marika saying, "She really was a bridge between the two cultures out here. Dr Marika endeared herself to all of us as a mentor, reconciliation advocate, a passionate and gifted educator, academic, interpreter, translator and a wonderful mother."[1] Jenny Macklin, who is Australia's Minister for Indigenous Affairs, also called Marika the "embodiment of reconciliation."[2]

According to Yolngu cultural traditions, Marika can only be referred to by her last name after her death.[1][2][3] This is why those paying tribute to Marika did not use her full name.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Tributes for Aboriginal leader". The Age. 12 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-17.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Tributes for Aboriginal leader". The Australian. 12 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e "'Cultural bridge' Marika dies in Arnhem Land". ABC News (Australia). 12 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-17.
  4. ^ "Wandjuk Marika", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1 December 2003
  5. ^ "Northern Territory's Australian of the Year Award Recipients Announced". National Australia Day Council. 23 November 2006. Retrieved 2008-05-17.