Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area


The Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) is fount in northeast Arnehemland Australia. Located on Aboriginal land. Dhimurru IPA surrounds the Northern Territories' fourth largest city, Nhulunbuy, named after the sacred hill Nhulun at the base of which the mining town is built.  To explain in greater detail Dhimurru’s experience with managing sacred sites, the three examples of Nhulun, Yalanbara and Muruwirri wiil be used. Nhulun is a good example of fostering cross-cultural learning and signifies the importance of sacred sites to the land rights movement. Yalanbara in turn shows the importance of cultural transmission and details on how dreamtime stories result into specific management concerns. Muruwirri concludes with highlighting lessons learned from sacred art and scientific mapping exercises of sea country (the coastal and marine environment).

Natural and cultural heritage values within Dhimurru IPA are managed from within the cultural worldview of the Yolngu people. Dhimurru provides an example of a protected area for which Indigenous people have sole management responsibility and have chosen to exercise that responsibility by negotiating productive partnerships with government and non-government organisations to produce an alternative form of joint management.

Like all aboriginal cultures, Yolngu culture is rich in spiritual values. Yolngu people have a cultural responsibility to manage the land in accordance with spiritual obligations to their ancestors.

Nhulun is a natural hill that is closed in on three sides by Nhulunbuy Township with over 4000 residents. Traditionally Nhulun is a sacred site relating to a "Sugarbag" dreaming, the maternal birthplace of the wild honey or sugarbag which is produced by native bees and considered a delicacy amongst Yolngu. Nhulun is of high cultural significance to Yolngu people who still carry out ceremony at Nhulun. The last ceremony took place on May the 1st 2007 and was a re-enactment of the Galtha Bunggul held in 1969 (see picture 1). The re-enactment was to coincide with the opening of the interpretive display at Nhulun, which describes its importance for Australian history and teaches of its cultural significance (Phil Wise pers comm.).

Yalanbara is recognised among the most sacred places, not only on the Dhimurru clan estates, but its significance is known to extend from north-eastern Arnhemland across Northern Territory borders to other states in Australia. Fisheries and tourism both have considerable impact on sacred sites at Yalanbara.

The Dhambaliya Channel and Muruwirri are both good examples of sacred natural sites in the marine environment commonly called Sea Country by the Yolngu who also refer to themselves as “Saltwater People”.

Dhimurru has extensive experience with management of sacred natural sites. As Dhimurru’s management is carried out from the perspective of Yolngu culture, cultural and spiritual values are always of primary concern to natural values.


Responsible: Verschuuren  Bas