Garma Festival

Background Information

The Education Hub (Garma Institute and Dhupuma College)

A central principle of the Yothu Yindi Foundation’s vision is the creation of economic opportunities for Yolngu and other Indigenous Australians that can be sustained over the long term – opportunities that will develop through the use of artistic and cultural practices and, importantly, through Yolngu ownership, drive and direction. (Note: Yothu + Yindi = mother + child = balance).


Specifically the Yothu Yindi Foundation vision is:

“For Yolngu and other Indigenous Australians to have the same level of wellbeing and life opportunities and choices as non-Indigenous Australians”


The Foundation has identified three primary objectives to drive the achievement of its vision of financially, physically and culturally sustainable Indigenous Australians, each vital for social cohesion, cultural identity, community development and maximised economic development. These objectives are to:

  • Provide contemporary environments and programs to practice, preserve, maintain and present traditional knowledge systems, cultural traditions and cultural practices;
  • Develop economic opportunities for Yolngu through education, training, employment, enterprise and personal and community development, including community leadership development; and to
  • Facilitate the sharing of knowledge and culture, thereby fostering a greater understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
 The Foundation is focusing on three programs as the key vehicles to achieving the stated objectives. These programs underpin the maintenance and sustainable improvement of the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of Yolngu and other Indigenous Australians.

The Education Hub (consisting of The Garma Institute and the re-establishment of Dhupuma College) is one of these core programs.

Aim: Developing individuals and communities through education, training and enterprise.

Description: Currently, the Garma Institute forms a crucial part of Garma through formal presentations (e.g. Key Forum and Youth Forum) and informal communications, discussions and networking. Moving forward, the Yothu Yindi Foundation will create a broader Education Hub, providing 3 core groups of activities:

Phase 1: Garma Institute: a culturally focused ‘bush university’ with conference, tourism and community facilities and learning in partnership with a tertiary education institute.

Phase 2: Dhupuma College: school support and coordination – co-curricular, boarding and transitional schooling support;

Phase 3: Dhupuma College: VET and adult pathways – vocational and foundation training, job placement, coordination of regional youth opportunities; and


The Garma Institute

The concept of a bush university was originally discussed in 1990 when the Yothu Yindi Foundation was originally established. The ideas behind the Garma Institute have evolved to be part of the YYF’s broad agenda, celebrating and affirming the Garma Key Forum as a major part of the annual Garma Festival.  Garma is a central plank in the Foundation’s overall Garma Institute effort, as it is effectively the hub of the “bush university” in practice.

As the Institute develops, its focus is drawn closer and closer to the needs of the Yolngu people – adult education, job readiness training, pathways from welfare to work, re-engagement and up skilling. Higher learning and university level exchange will have its place, but more and more the elders are seeking to provide the younger generation with a facility that meets their needs as they move toward the workplace.

For the many that have missed out on the education and learning necessary to make a life in the modern world, the Garma Institute will be a place that recognises them, respects them and gives young men and women the chance to improve their lives and be their best.

It will be a showplace of, and for, the future but it will also, very importantly, be a place that is put to practical use for the benefit of all Australians. The Garma Institute will be a multi-purpose facility with a number of functions.

It will include a Conference Facility and Auditorium available all year round, with accommodation onsite. The facility would also be the central infrastructure for the annual Garma Festival. It will be designed in a Yolngu way as it will be a Yolngu meeting place where the senior elders of east Arnhemland can meet and make decisions about the future. These facilities can also be used by other Indigenous groups for meetings and other purposes. Other visitors and smaller groups to east Arnhem could also make use of the facilities.

Last but not least the Institute will also include a Healing Centre which brings together the practical Yolngu knowledge in the area and will be made available for Yolngu and non-Yolngu people alike.


Dhupuma College 

The Dhupuma College was a transitional and residential college for Yolngu people and was once a substantial educational complex servicing the specific needs of Indigenous students across Arnhem Land. The college included residential facilities for staff and students and was located at Gulkula.

The college was named by Mr. Mungurrawuy Yunupingu, an elder living at Yirrkala. He named the college because it stands in his country. Dhupuma means “looking up and ahead” and it was a suitably symbolic name for a place where young people prepared for the future.

The college monogram came from sketches by Bruce Manggurra of Numbulwar, a former student of the College. The monogram depicts an Indigenous man looking up at the bees which have made sugar bag in a hollow tree. The circular formation of bees symbolises the sun, whilst the lower circle symbolises a billabong or water-hole. The meaning is that Indigenous people seek the sweet things and the necessities of life and the students of Dhupuma, if they are to achieve in the wider Australian society, must also seek for  the good things and necessities of life through a full and varied educational programme

The complex was initially established to service employees of the European Launcher Development organisation (ELDo) as part of a satellite launching program conducted from Woomera in South Australia. At the conclusion of the space program the facilities at Dhupuma were handed over to the NT Department of Education to meet the pressing need for a residential college in this region. Dhupuma College was opened by the then Prime Minister, William McMahon, in 1972.

The College provided a new and experimental approach to the education of children moving through the transitional year into community high schools. Innovative programs were designed and carefully implemented to give students support to increase their ability to succeed in education programs at a higher academic level as well as in TAFE and vocational programs.

The College was in the process of implementing a wider range of TAFE and vocational programs when it was closed abruptly on the 21st of August 1980.

The education programs and the ways in which they were implemented were an undoubted success. The College ran short term courses in small motor operation and maintenance, dressmaking and fabric printing, typing and office skills, a building construction course, and store management and accounting. The recreational program included pottery, gymnastics, photography, magazine production, gardening and even an ‘odd jobs’ elective. Evening classes maximized efficient use of the College’s resources.

Dhupuma College students developed remarkable qualities of both leadership and academic accomplishment. Dhupuma College housed students from as far away as Maningrida, Raminginning, Milingimbi, Galiwinku, Ngukurr, Angurugu, and Numbulwar.

On the 30th April 1980, the then Minister for Education gave his commitment in Parliament to rebuild Dhupuma College on its current site in two stages. However, in August 1980, without prior notice, the College was unexpectedly closed just before the beginning of the new school term. This significant community loss is still felt across communities in Arnhem Land.

Yolngu families have long sought the re-establishment of Dhupuma College. Senior family members have agreed with a proposal to invest significant amounts of income derived from the mining royalties in re- building a facility that can meet the specific needs that Dhupuma College addressed. 

The facility we plan to develop at Dhupuma/Gulkula will support Yirrkala School and other Homeland school centres, and it should become an interlocking education network that also includes the schools in Nhulunbuy.

We strongly believe that our secondary college and residential school will operate successfully just as Dhupuma College once did, and the best site for the new college is Gulkula. The college will work side by side and in tandem with the Garma Institute.

The land we propose for the college is already cleared. The site has power and a reliable source of water and it is serviced by a good all-weather road. Furthermore, it will be complemented by its neighbour, the Garma Institute.


Support and sponsorship

We welcome queries from individuals and businesses wanting to contribute to the establishment of the Garma Institute and Dhupuma College - please contact the Yothu Yindi Foundation directly via 


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