The Cultural Significance of Gulkula


Gulkula, the site and Ganbulapula, the ancestor 



The trees on the escarpment at Gulkula are mainly of one species of stringybark referred to known as Eucalyptus tetradonta. In Yolngu culture the Grey Stringybarks (E. Tetradonta) has many names; one Dhuwa moiety name is Gaydaka. At night on the escarpment Gaydaka seem ‘to move in their stillness’ and in the late afternoon as the wind moves through the leaves the trees appear to dance, to communicate with each other. Trees are sung and their movement is danced in the ceremony. In August Gaydaka is in flower and small native bees turn nectar into honey. The site at Gulkula has profound meaning for Yolngu - with views to the Gulf of Carpentaria, Gulkula is where the ancestor Ganbulabula brought the Yidaki (didjeridu) into being among the Gumatj people.

The Gulkula site is connected with the actions of Ganbulapula.

In his search for honey, Ganbulapula used his walking stick to hit the trees and so disturb the bees. With his hand shielding his eyes from the sun as he looked up, Ganbulapula could see the tiny black bees hovering around their hive in the hollow of a tree. He is known to look upwards to trace the flight of bees. A link is established through honey and the actions of both the Yirritja and Dhuwa moiety ancestors, with people and land and sea-country across northeast Arnhem Land. The significance of bees and honey is manifested in sacred designs that identify the body of cultural knowledge associated with honey. Honey is also linked through ancestral events with fire.

In a European bid to gain knowledge, and to establish and maintain international connections and cooperation, many of the trees on the escarpment at Gulkula were bulldozed and then burnt by the Department of Works in 1964. The Gove Down Range Guidance and Telemetry Station were constructed in their place. On and around the ceremonial ground where Ganbulapula looked up in his search for bees the European Launcher Development organisation (ELDo) installed a rocket tracking station. The rockets were launched from Woomera in South Australia and its purpose was to monitor the path of those rockets. The purpose of the station was to track the path of rockets. The path has been called a ‘fire across the desert’.

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