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Indigenous team take on Surf Life Saving Interstate Championships

Surf Life Saving’s elite will converge on Sydney this weekend for the 2012 National Interstate Championships, with defending champions Queensland keen to keep the title after wrestling it from long term winners New South Wales.

The two-day event will see state teams contest pool lifesaving events on Sunday at Sydney’s Olympic Aquatic Centre, and surf events on Monday at Queenscliff Beach in Sydney’s north.

Surf Life Saving Australia’s General Manager Sport, Dave Thompson, believes competition will be fierce over the weekend and expects state pride to bring out the best of all athletes.

“The events at the Interstates are traditionally hotly contested and with the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships taking place in late March, athletes will be checking out the competition in advance of the national titles,” he said.

This year, the Northern Territory interstate team will include five Yolngu surf lifesavers from the Walngawu Djakamirri Surf Life Saving Club – males Yirrmal Marika, Wunyangga Wanambi and Gudalum Mununggurr and females Dhimurru Mununggurr and Banguyarri Wunungmurra.

The club’s Senior Cultural Advisor, Mangatjay Yunupingu, is accompanying the indigenous athletes in Sydney and is a founding member of the aboriginal rock group Yothu Yindi.  

“This is their first experience of a major surf lifesaving competition and for most, their first experience of a major capital city. The athletes will be competing in beach events at Queenscliff Beach on Monday,” Mr Yunupingu said.

“These Yolngu surf lifesavers have been training hard through the tropical wet season, and are role models for their peers by leading a healthy active lifestyle.”

The Yolngu Club president Djawa Burarrawanga explained that the WDSLSC is a symbol of reconciliation and understanding between two cultures in the Northern Territory.

“The club embodies this through both Yolngu and Balanda (European) members practicing the skills of surf life saving in remote Arnhemland. The Walngawu Djakamirri club name means "Carer of life" in Yolngu matha, the local North East Arnhemland language.”

Mr Burarrawanga said the Walngawu Djakamirri SLSC was established in 2009 as Australia’s first indigenous surf life saving club in a community. 

The WDSLSC only consists of two shipping containers, one for boards and skis, the other an IRB and a BBQ. The club does not operate ocean activities between the November and May wet season, due to crocodiles and box jelly fish. The wet season training is focused towards beach events which include flag races, sprints, beach relay & beach volley ball.   

The club is operates with the support of Miwatj Health, a community-managed indigenous health organisation, SLS NT and a range of local sponsors. These resources and financial contributions sustain and insure the longevity of surf life saving culture in North East Arhnemland.

Yirrkala Community history:

Yirrkala has had visitors since the 16th century, the Macassan people of now Indonesia traded with Yolngu Clans for centuries. Yirrkala was established as a Christian Mission in 1935. Yirrkala became well-known when a Bark Petition from landowners in relation to a large bauxite mine was presented to Federal Parliament in the late 1960s. The community ceased to be a mission when the Yirrkala Dhanbul Community Association was incorporated under NT legislation in 1972.