The Anindilyakwa people came to Groote Eylandt on song lines which created the land, rivers, animals and people and named everything about the region. Angurugu was an important meeting place for Groote Eylandt clans and people coming from the mainland for ceremonies.
The first European settlement on the island was the Emerald River Mission,13 km south of Angurugu, in 1921. Angurugu began as an Anglican Church Missionary Society station in 1943, as the Royal Australian Air Force needed to use the Emerald River Mission airstrip. By the 1950s almost all the clans living on the west of the island had settled at Angurugu, a big change to the traditional habits of occupation.
The island economy changed dramatically when manganese was discovered near Angurugu. The Church Missionary Society and BHP agreed on royalty payments to allow mining. In 1964 the Groote Eylandt Mining Company was granted leases on the island, and the first shipments of manganese ore left in 1966. Groote Eylandt now produces over three million tonnes of manganese ore each year.
Groote Eylandt became Aboriginal freehold land in 1976. In 2008 Angurugu became part of the East Arnhem Shire, and the Shire Council took over local government.
Mining employs many Indigenous people, however, to secure the island’s economic future, the traditional owners—through the Anindilyakwa Land Council and with Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island Enterprises—have started the Dugong Beach Resort and other culture-based tourism businesses.
The Groote Eylandt archipelago became an Indigenous Protected Area in 2006.
The population of Angurugu and its surrounds in 2011 was approximately 835, of whom 794 were Indigenous (95 per cent). In 2011, 42 per cent of Angurugu’s Indigenous population was younger than 20 years of age.
The changing size and age composition of the Indigenous population of Angurugu will increase the need for housing, employment opportunities, as well as aged care and health services.
The community is situated halfway down the western coast of Groote Eylandt, on the banks of the Angurugu River. Groote Eylandt is around 650 km east of Darwin and 50 km off the Arnhem Land coast in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Angurugu has a humid tropical climate, and 80 per cent of annual rainfall occurs in the wet season (between December and March).
Anindilyakwa is the language of the communities of Groote Eylandt. Angurugu also has a number of Yolngu Matha speakers.
Groote Eylandt’s Indigenous population has 14 clan groups, which make up the two moieties on Groote Eylandt. The Anindilyakwa-speaking clans maintain their traditions and have strong ties with the people in the community of Numbulwar and on Bickerton Island.
Traditional ownership and custodian relationships for Angurugu and all other parts of Groote Eylandt are very complex, and are represented by the Anindilyakwa Land Council. The Anindilyakwa-speaking clans are traditional owners of this land.
The East Arnhem Shire Council provides local government in Angurugu, which sits within the Anindilyakwa Ward. In 2012 the Anindilyakwa Ward elected two (2) of the fourteen (14) Shire Council members. The Shire’s headquarters are in Nhulunbuy and it has a service delivery centre in Angurugu.
The Shire Services Manager, in cooperation with the Community Liaison Officer, consults local people through the Local Advisory Boards. The board is made up of seven clan representatives, including the community liaison officer, and represents both men and women. Its current members were the elected community government councillors before the local Aboriginal town council became a part of the Shire. They also serve as council leaders.
The Anindilyakwa Land Council represents the Aboriginals of the Groote Eylandt archipelago. It is responsible for matters under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.
- checking, representing and responding to the wishes and opinions of local Indigenous people about legislation, tourism, development and commercial activities that affect traditional land,
- helping traditional landowners claim, manage and protect the land, and
- being the first point of contact between Groote Eylandt traditional landowners and the Groote Eylandt Mining Corporation on all land-related issues and the payment of royalties.
The traditional owners have negotiated a whole-of-township lease with the Australian Government to support the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program, home ownership and economic development. The Executive Director of Township Leasing, who administers the lease, must act on the advice of the Traditional Owner Consultative Forum on any decisions involving land use.