The Yirrkala Film Project records many aspects of the life of the Yolngu people of northeast Arnhem Land during a period of great change. The project was initiated in response to the Commonwealth Government's approval of the NABALCO bauxite mine, involving the excision of 360 square kilometres from the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve surrounding the remote aboriginal mission station of Yirrkala. Twenty-two films along with hundreds of still photographs, film-trip diaries, and documentation - by anthropologists and Yolngu informants - were generated over the course of the project. Together, these cover a period during which Yolngu fought and lost the first Land Rights case in Australian history - in an attempt to stop the mine - and the beginnings of the 'outstation' or clan homeland movement.
The Yirrkala Film Project is unique as a long-term film project that took place over nearly 30 years. The films represent a valuable record of many aspects of the life of the Yolngu people of Yirrkala from 1970 to 1982 - a period of great change. During this time the isolation of Yirrkala was shattered by the coming of the NABALCO bauxite mine, precipitating the first land rights case in Australian history. The films also document the beginnings of the clan homeland movement and the transition of Yirrkala from mission station to Aboriginal town.
Quite apart from documenting a significant series of events in Aboriginal/Australian history, these films are an important record for the Yolngu themselves. This data collection adds value to the films by making additional documentation available, thus contributing to a unified collection that will eventually become more accessible both to the Yolngu and to all students of Australian history and Aboriginal culture.