They were the last words of our promotional movie and are a first principal of our enterprise.
Yaka gana was explained at my first induction into Yolngu society on the first day at the bilingual school at Yirrkala.
Literally means ‘not alone’
Leon White, the school principal and long term resident, explained that someone wandering around alone is perceived to be either in or up to trouble. This is a challenging attitude for Ngapaki (white fella) like me with a lifetime of wandering alone into the bushland surrounding Taroona then Tasmania then the World. It was an important lesson too and over the years I have seen the come and go of Ngapaki who have gone it alone.
A part can tell the whole. I remember hearing of some retired businessmen coming from a southern capital and going to a community. They were appalled at the state of some building and spent days giving it a full clean without engaging with the locals. They then left. I imagine their self-satisfaction and I imagine the Yolngu grateful that the cleaners have finally turned up but wishing they had not been so rude. ‘Typical bloody Ngapaki’ said an old man. They left without changing anything of significance and probably not experiencing any learning or change themselves.
Always together, yaka gana was a publication by the Yirrkala School principal Ms D, N Ngurruwutthun and her colleagues. It outlines the model of working together in a two way (bilingual) school. I think from first contact the Yolngu elders were very aware that the mixing of our cultures would happen at the interface of our languages and this would be most potent in the school environment. For several generations their best minds have taken up the challenge of curating this mixing. If we take the time to listen then this shared journey towards Yolngu empowerment in the modern world can be successful.
The yaka gana principle is not simple an esoteric realisation that all things are connected. It is a very practical code of practice for Yolngu and Ngapaki working together. As a professional with a broad skill set I can move fast through my areas of expertise and the tendency to rush ahead is ever present. Good teamwork however is more about coordination than duplication and so yaka gana does not preclude specialisation. It does mean that responsibility for decisions should not be isolated and for that communication must be effective. We plan what we will do together and then we go about each fulfilling our responsibilities – we paddle in one canoe with different tasks towards a common goal.
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