Darwin staff cultural tour August 2016

The Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisors (AICA’s) from RA NT lead the Darwin staff on a cultural tour of Darwin which included places of importance to the Larkaia People, the traditional owners of Darwin.

’The aim of this tour was to educate non Aboriginal staff about the intergenerational trauma experienced by Aboriginal clients by taking them to see places like the old Kahlin compound & site of the Retta Dixon home. We wanted the staff to feel and see these places and to remember these stories – to give staff an understanding of how angry, sad and frustrated the residents would have felt – and to help staff engage with Aboriginal clients on a deeper level‘’ – Valarie Tambling, AICA.

The first stop was Police Paddock. It is now the site of Stuart Park Primary School. The AICAs told the staff about how in the years before the Second World War, this site was used to home many of the Immigrants who had built the railway in the early days of Darwin. Police Paddock was also used to home married Aboriginal families and the conditions were harsh. There was no electricity or sewage and the huts were built from bush timber and sheets of iron. No legal right or title to the land was given to Aboriginal people living in Police Paddock

The second stop was Silas Roberts Hostel for Aboriginal people on Packard Street is named after a man who was highly respected by both cultures. Silas was a missionary-educated man from Ngukurr who was the first Aboriginal person to be made Justice of the Peace, and Special Magistrate. In 1974, He was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his services to the welfare of Aboriginal people as well as being elected as the first Chairman of the Northern Land Council – which is the building we are currently working in, 43 Cavenagh Street! Silas was known for always putting up people in his house and giving support, guidance and cultural advice to them.

Silas Roberts

(The Yirrkala Bark Petitions being viewed at Parliament House by Silas Roberts (on the left) then Chairman of the Northern Land Council and Galarrwuy Yunupingu (on the right) then Manager of the Northern Land Council in1976)

The next stop was the Darwin Oval. The Oval is now the open space along the water’s edge on the esplanade, but right up to the 1950’s it was one of the most important recreational areas for Aboriginal people in Darwin. At that time in the NT, AFL was the only sport at the time where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people could play against each other. AFL was a source of pride for Aboriginal men, who were very talented on the pitch and could showcase their skills in front of their families and friends. In those days, footy was a way for Aboriginal men to release their frustrations towards the white men who they felt were their tormentors off the pitch

darwin oval

We then visited the site of the Retta Dixon Home. In the 1930’s a missionary couple founded the Retta Dixon Home. It was home to part-Aboriginal children, single mothers, and some adult women. Many of the children there had been forcefully taken from their Aboriginal mothers. The government at the time had a policy of assimilation meaning that ‘’half-caste’’ children would learn to be white. There has been a Royal Commission into the sexual and physical abuse which was carried out by the staff towards the residents of Retta Dixon.

Pictured below in the 1930’sRetta Dixon in the 1930s

The Site of the Retta Dixon home today:Retta Dixon today

Laying flowers

The next stop was the Gurrambai trail in Rapid Creek. Gurrambai is the Larkaia word for elbow, which is the shape of the creek’s mouth. It’s an important place for the Larakia people with two sacred Baynan trees as well as Old Man Rock who sits out at sea – just north of Rapid Creek. Larakia people believe that if Old Man Rock is disturbed it will cause a natural disaster.

Eddie McKenzie (AICA) explained that Gurrambai has been a source of water for thousands of years and known as a good hunting and fishing area for Aboriginal people. In the late 1800’s the early missions used the creek for irrigation and since the arrival of Europeans in the 1930’s, it has been a popular spot for picnics and swimming.


After lunch, the AICA’s had prepared a number of group activities for the staff to complete. We designed these activities to see what information had been retained by the staff and how they could use it to better communicate and engage with Aboriginal clients. The staff were split up into groups and given a question to think about so for example ‘’What are some of the important things to be aware of when speaking with an Aboriginal client’’ The groups were asked to present their answers to the whole group at the end. That was the end of our tour.

end games

‘’I had a wonderful day, I now know so much more about Darwin’s history and most importantly – how many of these changes have affected our Aboriginal people – both in the past and in the present. I can’t thank the AICA’s enough for a great and meaningful excursion! Thank you!’ – Janet Langley, Children’s Counsellor when asked for feedback on the cultural tour.