Team building and cultural understanding July 2015

“As one of the elders from the Unwymil clan group, as well as a female Aboriginal Cultural Adviser employed by Relationships Australia Northern Territory, performing the Welcome to Country on my land has given me a great joy.


I love sharing my cultural knowledge and seeing my work colleagues from this organisation coming together, wanting to learn and understand about my culture, has given me a great sense of pride.”

And what a learning experience it was!

At the end of July Relationships Australia Northern Territory staff from Darwin, Katherine and Tiwi had the wonderful experience of travelling to Basecamp Wallaroo Adventure Bound, in Arnhem Land for a team building and cultural understanding activity.

Basecamp Wallaroo is situated on approximately 1,000 acres of natural bushland bordered by the Mary River National Park and Mary River flood plains about 70 kilometres along the Arnhem highway, around one and a half hours’ drive from Darwin.

Prior to arriving at the adventure camp, we were all welcomed to country by our Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisor, Valarie Tambling. Valarie is one of the elders of the Unwymil clan group and she used some water from the Mary River, which runs through her land, to perform the traditional welcoming.

water blessing

‘’This welcome to country is very sacred,” she said.

“It is significant to all Aboriginal people because when taking outsiders onto our country, we perform the watering so that our ancestors can protect them during their visit.”

Each person stood in front of Valarie and had water from the Mary River sprinkled on their head, chest and back.  Valarie then flicked some of the same water towards sunrise and sunset.

Following the welcome to country, the men and women set up separate camp sites in Basecamp, Wallaroo.

The sites were joined by a central outdoor area with enough seating for everyone. There was also a large fire pit.

Once the tents were pitched, we made our way over to the seating area. Valarie had invited members of the Limilngan clan group to join us.

samson speaking

One of the Limilngan elders, Samson Henry, gave a cultural awareness talk about clan groups, sacred sites and skin groups within the Arnhem Land region. 

samson speaking 2

Samson explained to us that there are two tribal skin names in the Arnhem Land region, Yirridja and Dhuwa, which is very important and significant to understand and acknowledge.

Samson explained that Aboriginal people from this region identify as either one or the other, Yirridja or Dhuwa. These skin names are passed down from generations and the significance of these names is that depending on which skin group you are, you will have different dreaming places, totems and have strong connections as ‘’djugai’’ (next of kin) to protect the land, stories and culture and to pass these on to future generations to come.

Samson was accompanied by his two nephews Harold and Cadel Goodman, who performed the corroboree while Samson blew the didgeridoo.

samson playing dig with the nephews

Samson also spoke to us about the meaning of corroboree.

‘’Corroboree is how Aboriginal people interact with Dreamtime through dance, music and costume. The dancers bodies are painted in different ways, you know, by doing this – learning the dance, learning these songs it represents the learning and understanding and knowing who we are and where we are from. The songs have meanings regarding country and culture and the dance is part of that,’’ he explained.

Harold and Cadel wore white paint and began to dance in front of the staff. They invited the men to join in the dance.

men getting into the dance2

lads dancing3

Valarie and her sister-in-law Irene invited the women to join in the dance and taught us a few moves.

valarie teaching us to dance

“It was great to see Relationships Australia NT taking part in the Cultural Camp and Team Building activities out on country. Relationships Australia has played a big part in furthering the understanding of its staff by engaging the appropriate tribal clan groups to take part in this activity,” Valerie explained.

“But it was not only the staff that learned here. As I thought about the way that Relationships Australia Northern Territory brought the two clan groups out here together, to share this cultural knowledge as one, I could see the future both ways.

“Everybody reads about the need to be culturally competent, but what does that mean? Having you mob out on country, welcoming you, has given me a great sense of pride from knowing that the staff, the people who I see every day at work, wanted to learn more about my country and my culture.

“Having my djugui, the Limilngan clan group joining me on this cultural camp, was an inspiration also. This was the first time we done it, you know, came together as one, to share our knowledge and to teach our culture to other people. It was a really valuable experience for me too because I can see a strong future for our younger generations to come, sharing their knowledge and passing that on’’ Valarie said.

After the cultural camp the staff took part in team building activities, team challenges and problem solving including physical activities such as low ropes, abseiling, high ropes and the flying fox.

kelly killing the high ropes


Kelly killing the high rope1


box champ

Tony on the flying fox

Eddie McKenzie, a male Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisor at Relationships Australia, whose ideas initiated the cultural camp and team building activities, added that it was really positive to see and participate in the team building activities.

‘’Seeing people that had never done stuff like the low and high ropes, bush camping, abseiling and the flying fox was great. I think people found it challenging but exciting at the same time. It was a good opportunity for people to meet and get to know people they wouldn’t usually work with, the likes of Ethel from Katherine and Tony, Cathy, Cynthia and Patricia from Tiwi”

Groups of staff prepared each of the meals throughout our stay, all of which were delicious and a team building experience in itself.

food prep team

“All up, the whole thing was very positive, it was good for the staff of Relationships Australia NT to experience the team building, to have Valarie’s mob come out on country and teach them about skin names and the different boundaries of clans from the region and then to join in the dance. “I think it was a great thing to interact with other staff in the organisation that we don’t often see.’’