Yolŋu culture and language

Learning Djambarrpuyngu

There are many different languages spoken in Arnhem Land but the language taught at Shepherdson College is Djambarrpuyŋu. A great resource to begin learning Djambarrpuyŋu is "Further Studies in Djambarrpuyŋu" which is on the Google Drive with audio files.

Community relations

  • Take the time at the start to sit down and talk to your Yolngu assistant teacher or Yolngu staff.

  • Go slow, be patient, listen with both ears and remain a listener. There are more similarities between Yolŋu and Balanda cultures than differences, and the differences are more about boundaries.

  • When you are wanting to talk to someone in a house, wait at the gate and call out to them rather than going into their yard and knocking on the door.

  • It's sometimes OK if a yolngu person is not looking at you while they are listening. Sometimes holding eye contact can be a bit intimidating. But sometimes students are being disrespectful by not focusing on listening.

  • It's fine to say no to humbug and there are no hard feelings. You need to set your boundaries to what you feel comfortable with and hold them there.

  • Sign language is strong here, a raised eyebrow is an effusive greeting. Raised eyebrows also means ‘Yes’ so when you ask a child a question they will look past you and flick their eyebrows to respectfully answer in the affirmative.

  • It is respectful to wear loose fitting clothes that cover you well. It's also more comfortable in the heat.

  • Make sure that you ask permission from the landowner or Danny and Daisy if you are intending to go travelling on Elcho Island or visit one of the homelands.

  • If a Yolngu offers to adopt you and you feel comfortable then you can accept their offer. It is important for Yolngu to know how you fit in the gurrutu (family) system.


  • You don’t need an NLC permit to fly here, however if driving out of town or to homelands you do need to ask the landowner's permission. Daisy and Danny can help you with this.

  • But you may need a Essential worker card depending on Covid restrictions.

Further reading

Growing up yolngu: This is an insightful site to begin to understand the perspective of our students.

Remote Ready information booklet