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The Jawoyn People

About The Jawoyn

Jawoyn is recognised among Aboriginal peoples over a large area of the Northern Territory’s ‘Top End’. It is an all encompassing expression used in reference to language, culture, people and territory. With 17 clans making up the group, The Jawoyn Association forms a positive role model for similar organisations to follow; their business enterprise, human services and forward planning with a vision for economic independence provides employment and training for Jawoyn people, while maintaining a strong affinity to traditional heritage and cultural ideals. Nitmiluk National Park is owned by the Jawoyn people and managed under a 99 year lease by the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission, in association with Jawoyn people, culture and traditions.


Nitmiluk is the Jawoyn name for Katherine Gorge. It is pronounced Nit-me-look, and literally means Cicada Place. The name was given by Nabilil, important figure of the Creation Time. As he travelled through the country he came to the Gorge where he hears the song of the Cicada, “Nit, Nit, Nit!” The Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park and Jawoyn Association logo is a painting by a deceased traditional owner of Nitmiluk. It depicts Bolung (the rainbow serpent), Nitmi (the cicada), mussels, fish and rocks. By tradition, Bolung still inhabits the deep pools of the second Gorge at Nitmiluk and care must be taken not to disturb him.

Modern Day

Today, Jawoyn invite you to visit their country and to share the experience and grandeur of Nitmiluk Gorge. Step back to a time long past when the mythical figure of ‘Bula’ travelled this land leaving his image as paintings in rock shelters – images that depict the stories of the Jawoyn people and can still be seen and admired today.

Jawoyn Stories - The Dreaming

Our people - the Jawoyn tribe - are the traditional owners of the area now known as Nitmilik National Park. Since the coming of white people we have been able to keep alive our traditions and care for our country through our Law.

…But it has not been easy. This Law was given to us in the time we call Burr, often called The Dreaming or Dreamtime. It was during this time that the world was made, and the rules for proper behaviour were laid down. During this period, beings in the form of humans, animals and plants brought the landscape to life by “putting themselves” in the country.


They travelled the land, above and below the ground, giving names to places and specifying dangerous areas and sites to avoid. They gave the country its language and in doing so designated which people it would belong. In travelling to the neighboring countries they established relationships across language group boundaries with sometimes faraway people. We tell of these travels in stories and songs, some of which are public and others which are used in secret ceremonies.

Bula - The Creator

Our land was first created by Bula, who came from saltwater country to the north. With his two wives, the Ngallenjilenji, he hunted across the land and in doing so transformed the landscape through his actions. In a number of places, Bula left his image as paintings in rock shelters. Bula finally went under the ground at a number of locations north of Katherine in an area known to us as “Sickness Country”. It is called this because the area is very dangerous, and should not be disturbed for fear that earthquakes and fire will destroy the world. We regard Bula as the most important figure in our Dreaming.


Many places in our country were named by Nabilil, a dragon-like figure who came from the west near Wadeye (Port Keats). He travelled carrying water and firesticks in a dilly bag under his arm. He passed through Garrakla - the limestone formation either side of the Stuart Highway north of Katherine; and then on the Wurliwurliyn-jang, a mosquito dreaming place near the site of Kalano and the Katherine Council offices.

He was travelling through country that was very dry, and as he passed through the Blue Tongue Lizard dreaming places at Yerreljlrriyn and Wun-gurri all the birds tried to catch him to get the water he carried. Lumbuk, the pidgeon, Wakwak, the crow and Garrkayn, the brown hawk all tried but failed as Nabilil was too clever for them. He then came and camped at the entrance to the Katherine Gorge where he heard the song of the cicada: “Nit! Nit! Nitnit!” and called this place Nitmiluk.

Many other places named in similar ways can be seen in the Nitmulik National Park. For example, Barraya (the Kookaburra) emerged at Barraya in what is today known as the Second Gorge. Upstream from the Gorge, Barrakbarrak (female and male diver ducks) collided with two cliffs at a notable spur on the river and submerged on either side, leaving their name. The series of hills along the road close to the Gorge are named after Bemang (the Blanket Lizard), who came from Rembarrnga, tribal country, and then travelled up towards Pine Creek. At Wun-gurri, the divided river represents Gurri (the female blue tongue).

Most of these Dreaming places are not dangerous, but some may have to be approached with care, or not disturbed at all.

Bolung - The Rainbow Serpent

Bolung, who is believed to inhabit the deep green pools found in the Second Gorge, is not only an important life giving figure but may also act as a destroyer. This can take the form of lighting and may bring monsoonal floods.

Our people do not fish in the pools where Bolung sits. When fishing close to these pools, we can take only a small portion of the fish caught and throw-back the rest in order to appease Bolung. Drinking water must not be taken from these deep pools but rather from the shallow associated waters. Pregnant women and new initiates may not swim in the Katherine River for fear of disturbing Bolung. Unlike other Jawoyn Dreaming which may be addressed for assistance in hunting and foraging such as Barrava (the Kookaburra), Bolung must not be spoken to and must be left undisturbed.

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