Koori Mail: True champion for his people

Publish Date:
18th December 2013

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NabulaNj Na-bolmo Hard passed away on October 19, 2013, at his beloved Djirrbiyuk outstation in Kakadu  National Park. He was a special man: a loving husband and father, a great friend,  great linguist  and a man of great ideas and passion. Born 50 years ago at Pine Creek, Nabulanj spent his early years in the community of Barunga outside Katherine, where he attended school, excelling in English as well as his mother tongue Mayali. Nabulanj also excelled at sports, especially football and soccer, and he was an avid lifelong Hawthorn AFL fan.
Around the age of 17 he moved to Kakadu National Park and was one of the first park ranger trainees. He  formed many friendships in those years, spending much time at anlarr (Nourlangie camp) with the  Gangali family. He had a thorough knowledge of park operations and well understood the challenges facing both park authorities and bininj (aboriginal people) in their joint management of the park.
Nabulanj was a very generous man, especially with his immense cultural knowledge. I discovered this not long after arriving in Kakadu, when during many evenings at my home in Jabiru he patiently explained the cultural and political history of the region, silently bearing my no doubt insufferable ignorance and  questions.
His pride and love of his family are memorably instructive. I fondly remember his bursting pride whenever he spoke of his wife Nida’s mastery in basket weaving. There were many times when his enthusiasm and pride in her work would simply overwhelm him and he would cry, such was his pride and devotion.
Nabulanj worked over many years for the Gundjeihmi aboriginal Corporation, very often on complex legal, economic and political matters. The complexity of these issues was intensified by the cross-cultural setting within which Gundjeihmi must work. And the stakes are always high.
Staff could always count on Nabulanj’s great intelligence and language ability to not only quickly understand whatever issue was at hand, but to also explain it to the Mirarr honestly, with brevity and  sympathy. In all my years of political work I never met a more competent interpreter. I saw him unperturbed by power in the form of wealthy mining magnates, ministers of the Crown and politicians of all persuasions, international diplomats, government officials and the formidable Mirarr women, who call the shots at the
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation board.
He was instrumental in securing many landmark agreements over the years, including the Jabiluka  Long-Term Care and Maintenance agreement, negotiations over the Jabiru native title claim, the  renegotiated Ranger Mine agreement, regional alcohol management reform, and much more.
Nabulanj devoted his final years to what I consider his two key legac issues: the development of the  outstation where he lived with his family, and the overhaul of education for bininj schoolchildren.
Djirrbiyuk (Whistleduck) Outstation is a very special place, being Djang (sacred) for the Mirarr. Due to the tireless work of Nalulanj, Djirrbiyuk is now a place for a number of families and many people and visitors, but more than this it is a big, loving gift to his family and, most particularly, his beloved wife Nida. Countless hours and days of discussion and planning went into creating what that place is now.  Throughout the process, Nabulanj was always clear that his vision for Djirrbiyuk was an honouring of his wife. It is marvellous, practical and lasting gift.
Nabulanj’s other great legacy is the Djidbidjidbi Residential College in Jabiru. Nabulunj understood that ‘the kids won’t listen to us (parents). You need to build somewhere in town where they can stay during the week and go to school. Get two dongas, a fence, a cheeky dog and some house parents’. He even drew a diagram with me to explain his vision. That vision, step by at times tortured step, ultimately became Djidbidjidbi. The college, which will hopefully outlive all of us here today, is Nabulanj's vision made manifest. The process was often fraught and difficult, but Nabulanj never wavered in his vision, not once.
That vision and his commitment to it I believe will one day prove to be truly historic and of national  significance.
Naturally, I have many regrets at my brother’s early passing, but perhaps the keenest regret is that we  won’t be able to see him enjoy the real fruits of his labours at Djidbidjidbi. I am glad that he had the  opportunity to proudly witness his daughter Nonika and her cousin Phillipa graduate from Year 12 at Jabiru School. This graduation was possible largely because of the supportive environment of the college. I give thanks for the time I knew him, for his help, humour and wisdom. I devote my ongoing work in  Kakadu to his memory and to advancing his vision and the interests of his family. My thoughts and prayers extend to those who survive him, his beloved wife Nida and children Jacob, Vernadine, Nonika, Claude, Vernon and Nakita.
– By Justin O’Brien, Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation