M Katherine was a senior elder of the Buyhmi Clan and Traditional Owner of the world famous Gabarnmang rock art shelter. M Katherine sadly passed away on 26 August 2018 and it was her wish to be buried at the place she called home – Gabarnmang.
Gabarnmang is only accessible by many hours of walking or by helicopter and the aim of this campaign is to raise sufficient funds for the hire of 2 helicopters which will enable the family to ensure M Katherine is buried on her land in accordance with her wishes. Any funds raised in excess of the actual helicopter costs will be given to the immediate family of M Katherine.
The ceremony is scheduled for 30 September 2018 at Barunga Community south of Katherine and following that the coffin accompanied by 6-8 close family will travel the 100 kilometres by helicopter to Gabarnmang where the burial will take place.
The Jawoyn language group, of which M Katherine was a member, consists of approximately 800 people. Most live in communities situated on Jawoyn country with many living in sub-standard conditions, including M Katherine and her extended family.
M Katherine lived in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory for most of her life. She never went to formal school, instead, her grandmother, grandfather and parents taught her the ways of the land. She learned laws, traditions, language and culture as they walked throughout the Katherine and Arnhem Land regions.
As a child, she lived through the impact of what is known as the “Stolen Generation”, when government officials forcibly took her brother and sister away from her parents. Her brother and sister were considered “half-caste” – born to Aboriginal and Caucasian parents – and they were taken because of the ill-informed assimilation policies of the time.
M Katherine was a political advocate and cultural ambassador for the Jawoyn people. She was also one of the most respected indigenous elders in Australia and a past winner of Elder of the Year. She was an inspirational source of cultural knowledge and made it a mission to share her culture with the outside world by featuring in a wide range of documentaries, books, media and scientific recording of her country, culture and heritage.
M Katherine proudly hosted a wide range of international celebrities and organisations at Gabarnmang such as Kenny Rogers, the Oprah Winfrey Tour, National Geographic and many others. She also featured in numerous documentaries including “Songlines, Dreamtime, and the Visionary Realm of the Aborigines” by Wade Davis and the ABC Award-Winning Series – “First Footprints” by Martin Butler and Bentley Dean which documented the story and history of indigenous people in Australia. Oprah’s website is still today influencing people around the world to travel to Australia and the Top End. http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/the-sacred-gabarnmung-cave-in-australia/all
In 2015, M Katherine flew to Gabarnmang with John Gollings to do a full photographic documentation of the site. He was assisted by Sam Gollings and Edwina Kearney. The portrait that they made of M Katherine surrounded by the art of Gabarnmang is now in the National Portrait gallery in Canberra.
M Katherine was a proactive campaigner for scientific research at Gabarnmang which resulted in a joint French/Australian University study of the site from 2010 – 2012. Her constant presence on site during the excavation and studies was an invaluable contributor to the overall success of the expeditions by providing traditional knowledge, explanations and rationale in collaboration with Western scientific knowledge. The team was led by Assoc. Prof. Bruno David from Monash University and included, amongst others, Prof. Jean-Michel Geneste from the Centre National de Prehistoire of the French Ministry of Culture, and Prof. Jean-Jacques Delannoy, Universite Savoie Mont Blanc, France.
The International research team uncovered a treasure trove of occupational evidence at Gabarnmang which is well documented in scientific publications across the world. One of these discoveries was a fragment of a ground-edge stone axe dated to 35,000+ years which at the time was the oldest of its type in the world. The team also established that human habitation at the site stretches back at least c. 50,000 years making it one of the earliest known occupational sites in Australia. M Katherine and her ancestral home of Gabarnmang has brought a focus to the Northern Territory by the international scientific world.
M Katherine was an influential leader within the Jawoyn nation and one of the last fluent speakers of the Jawoyn language. She was a celebrity of the Barunga Festival for many years and a renowned story-teller of Jawoyn ancestral stories. She travelled to the US and to Europe talking about and promoting Jawoyn culture, Jawoyn people and of course, Gabarnmang. There will never be anyone like her again. She was a great Territorian and outstanding Australian.
M Katherine was a strong driver of Jawoyn people being educated both in traditional culture and in Western ways. Her love for her family, culture and country will stay with us forever, and her family sincerely thanks you for your contribution so that we can honour our culture and her wish to be laid to rest at Gabarnmang.
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