News & Views

The Homelands Movement

Australia’s Aboriginal peoples comprise some of the oldest and most vibrant cultures in the world. They are rooted strongly to the lands that sustained their ancestors, despite having been forced out of many of those places over time. For generations many Aboriginals have nourished hopes of returning to their homelands, and for the last several decades some of them have been doing just that.

According to Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, an Alyawarr/Anmatyerr elder living in Utopia homeland in the Northern Territory, “You are nothing unless you are on your country, because that country actually owns you. That’s where you get your identity, your language.”

The homelands movement started in the late 1960s when indigenous family groups started relocating from settlement towns to their traditional lands, often remote and challenging environments where spiritual and cultural ties are strong. Today many communities living on homelands cultivate traditional foods, employ time-tested landscape management practices, and feel the presence of their ancestors at sacred sites.

Aboriginal people on homelands enjoy greater control over their lives through community-based decision-making and governance models. They have been found to be healthier, have stronger spiritual and economic ties, and better transmit their traditional culture and values to their children.

Amnesty International campaigns to support and improve homeland life in the Northern Territory under the principle that Aboriginal people have a fundamental human right to their traditional lands. The organization’s efforts have helped bring about important government support for the Territory’s approximately 500 homelands.

“Homeland, for the Australian Aboriginal person, is absolutely your being, where you’re at, and where you’ve been for thousands of years,” says Kunoth-Monks. “Having come from that country, you can’t even envisage being anywhere else.”

In these photos:

A family from Soapy Bore, Utopia homelands; L-R Renita Loy Kemarr and sisters Myrtle Petyarr, Kathlenn Petyarr and Violet Petyarr; Jeffrey Pepperill Kemarr.

Photographer: April Pyle