Donny Woolagoodja, the man who brought Dambimangari culture to the world in a breathtaking display at Sydney Olympics, is opting for a quieter life.
A long term elder of the Dambimangari people, he has stepped down from the Aboriginal Corporation he helped to establish in the 2000s, planning to spend more time on-country in the magnificent West Kimberley coastal region of Western Australia.
The quietly-spoken patriarch of more than 1000 Dambimangari people came to international prominence at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when he designed the spectacular indigenous icons which formed a centrepiece of the opening ceremony.
He remains one of the region’s most significant artists.
At the same time, he has been an influential figure in the movement to revitalise the culture of the remote, heritage-listed North West.
He was one of the claimants of the Dambimangari Native Title which covered 16,040 square kilometres of land and 11,896 square kilometres of sea dotted with more than 720 islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago.
The claim was granted in 2011, in a determination which set aside land for Native Title, exclusive Native Title holdings and Indigenous Protection Areas.
Donny Woolagoodja is convinced that the unique bond between Aboriginal people and their traditional lands will be the foundation of a successful future for indigenous communities like the Dambimangari – many of whom were taken from their traditional land by well-meaning missionaries before the Second World War.
“For me, the most important project for our future will be the Healthy Lands Program looking after our country and all of its plants and animals,” he said.
“We have a very rich culture which is still here today
“We see it in the drawings on the rocks, the wildlife and the landscape in one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Broadcaster and Botanist Sir David Attenborough described the area as one of the natural wonders of the world.
For Donny Woolagoodja, it’s also the future – not just for the growing tourism industry (He plans to continue operating his Wandjina Tours enterprise) nor the extraordinary number of successful artists (the community’s Mowanjum Arts Centre is famous Australia-wide) – but because it will provide security and emotional stability for future generations.
The land will also bring work in the form of National Park management, fire protection and involvement in scientific research
“There is something special about traditional lands,” he said
“They bring us comfort and strength.
“If we’re going to have a great future, we’re going to need to achieve it ourselves – with education, with work and an understanding of our traditional culture.
”And we’re going to need the land – with all the opportunities that brings.”
Another Woolagoodja, Donny’s nephew Francis, will be assuming a key leadership role for the community after his appointment as Chairman of the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation.
Francis described his famous uncle as an inspiration to his people.
“He is a very senior Traditional Elder who has given many years of unconditional commitment to the younger generation of Dambimangari people, encouraging them to learn about and work on their traditional country.
“The Directors of the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation wish Donny all the very best and continuing success with his world-renowned paintings.”
For more information contact Peter McCumstie, CEO, Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation 08 9191 2383.
Donny Woolagoodja with Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation director Rowena Mouda (left), the Corporations Assistant Chief Executive Officer Renata Hogan and Traditional Owner Roslyn Dolby