In recent years, it became apparent there was one remaining knowledgeable senior elder, Wamud Namok, who had walked across most of Jawoyn traditional lands with his grandfather and father. From the time he could walk, Wamud travelled across the land on foot, learning Jawoyn ancestral beliefs and practices from his elders.
Sadly, Wamud passed away in late 2009, at more than 80 years of age. Wamud was not only unique because of his age, but he was the last remaining elder alive who had possibly more cultural and historical knowledge of Jawoyn Lands and customs than all the Jawoyn population combined. His knowledge of the south-west Arnhem Land Plateau was extensive.
In the remaining years of his life, he worked with Jawoyn to share his knowledge to help record significant information important to the history and pride of the Jawoyn people.
It is now of significant concern to the Jawoyn people that with the passing away of this senior elder, a wealth of traditional knowledge and information - including place names, ceremony sites and cultural history - has been lost forever.
The need for a cultural heritage focus was identified when it was realised almost all Jawoyn people have lost touch with their land and know very little about the magnificent heritage sites left behind by their ancestors.
This situation has arisen, not through lack of interest, but by the inability of Jawoyn people to travel to their homelands and ancestral places.
When the program first began, there were a few remaining elders who had walked the land with their family.
Following consultation with senior knowledgeable elders, it was quickly recognised that traditional knowledge of south-west Arnhem Land has undergone a dramatic decline in the past 20 years.
It was vital then that every effort be put into documenting the remaining knowledge and identify and locate sites of significance.
Traditional knowledge of south-west Arnhem Land has undergone a dramatic decline in the past
The following aims became a priority:
- Identify any people who may have traditional knowledge of cultural sites
- With the assistance of senior custodians or knowledgeable elders, to record and assess cultural sites
- To record any oral histories or motif interpretations attached to the sites
The Association conducted anthropological work with those who had firsthand knowledge of remote Jawoyn lands, particularly on the Arnhem Land plateau.
Due to the ruggedness and isolation of the region and the limited time available, access to most sites is only possible by helicopter.
Numerous trips have been taken with elders, and youngsters, to visit and verify the location of important sites.
These sites include ceremonial sites, sacred sites, major art complexes and dreaming sites, as well as favourite camping and fishing locations, and sites with sentimental associations.