President Banambi Wunungmurra was elected as a Councillor for the Gumurr Miwatj Ward at the inaugral NT Shire Council elections in 2008. President Wunungmurra was elected unopposed as Council President at the first meeting of the inaugral Council and is currently serving a third term as a Councillor for Gumurr Miwatj Ward and as President of East Arnhem Regional Council.
Banambi currently lives and was born in Yirrkala, attended the local mission school. He later attended the Brisbane Theological College undertaking a 3 year Youth Leadership Course with the goal of teaching and training younger people to excel in sport. Banambi moved on to Melbourne to follow his dream of playing in the then VFL and joined the Geelong Football Club. Banambi played part of the season in “B” Grade being coached by the famous Polly Farmer, but a family tragedy intervened back in his home community so he returned to Yirrkala for good.
Q. How long have you been involved in local government and what led you to run for East Arnhem Regional Council?
Well I have been involved with East Arnhem Shire Council since 2008, when the Council was formed. I was elected as the inaugural President, and I am current serving my third term on Council and as President.
I have had a long career, which has always maintained some involvement with Local Government in many capacities over a number of years. As the Chairperson of the Regional Council through the ATSIC days and General Manager of a number of Aboriginal organisations working closely and fostering relationships with Local Government.
I wanted to have a role with East Arnhem Shire Council from the very start. I know a lot of people in East Arnhem Land and I knew how the system worked. Some people were concerned before the Council began, so it was important for people who understood Local Government to be there from the very start to establish a new Council with strong foundations and values.
Q. Please provide a brief history of the Shire’s formation and what ways you think it benefits the East Arnhem community:
East Arnhem Regional Council was formed in the 2008 Northern Territory Local Government Reform, which saw 61 Community Government Councils merge to form 8 Shires. The Council delivers both Local Government and vital community services in 9 communities of East Arnhem Land.
Our mission statement at East Arnhem Regional Council, is to be a Council that is ‘Dedicated to promoting the power of people, protection of community and respect for cultural diversity’. Council is about the people, and that is essentially the main benefit for the people of East Arnhem Land.
I have had a lot of involvement with indigenous people on our region. I found that often organisations and companies working in communities try to do a lot of things for indigenous people, without seeking their input or contribution. It is part of our role as Councillors on East Arnhem Regional Council to make sure that there is Yolngu (people of East Arnhem Land), Warnanindilyakwan (people of Groote Eylandt) & Balanda (white people) collaboration and involvement in the way we run our communities.
Q. How does the remoteness of the Council's communities impact on your role, and how do you cope with this remoteness?
I have lived in Yirrkala most of my life with my wife and family. My family is a small unit that fits into the bigger family of Yolngu people in East Arnhem Land. This is my home. Although our communities are far apart, we all have a relationship, our elders and our totems.
I am supported as President of Council by my fellow Councillors. They all work closely to understand the situation in their own communities, both culturally and within services that East Arnhem Regional Council provides. We make decisions as a unit, and from time to time we make mistakes, but we learn from them and work with people on the ground and the people of East Arnhem Land to implement good processes.
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges confronting you and your Council? & How do you think these challenges should be tackled?
We have a number of challenges that we often deal with as a Council, both operationally and culturally.
A huge challenge for us operationally, is working towards a financially sustainable local government model and building on the relationship we have developed with our constituents.
We were faced with the challenge of rolling out a very unpopular reform in communities, and a lot on people felt disempowered. We have had to work in an environment where we have to take two steps forward and one step back. So we have been working very closely and have been able to build a strong relationship with local communities through collaboration; and now we are seeing results and services, which are contributing to the standards of living.
We are also working in a field that is severely underfunded, so the another challenge is getting people to understand the financial dynamic that we operate in. While we strive to advocate and deliver quality services with the best of intentions, we are very tied and limited in what funding we receive and how we can spend that money.
More broadly, as a Yolngu man, we need to encourage our younger people to be stronger leaders, so they can one day be in management leading this Council in the workforce or alongside me as an Elected Member. We have been fighting for this, for a very long time and we really need to get behind our young people in communities.
Q. What is the most difficult aspect of your role?
To be honest, although there are challenges for the Council as a whole, I don’t have many difficulties in my role as Council President. Over my years, I have worked with local people to understand the challenges that they have.
I am also flanked by Councillors who are supportive and strong leaders in their own rights.
Q. What are some achievements you have had during your time on Council of which you are particularly proud?
I think I am most proud of two particular achievements; these are the launch of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and the success and progress of our Community Advisory Boards (CAB’s).
In 2011, Council launched the NT’s first stand alone RAP. The RAP was about bringing people together; developing partnerships, not only Yolngu and Anindilyakwa, but also people from different communities, backgrounds and organisations to be part of our Council’s vision of Reconciliation. It’s about putting our heads together, to share our knowledge and wisdom to make RAP viable for people of East Arnhem Land. In 2017 we revised and relaunched our RAP - with new targets, new directions and a renewed push to improve the pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our region.
We have also come along way from our Community Advisory Boards to Local Authorities. Our Local Authorities are the voice of the community and help shape the direction of Council at a community level. The LAs are made of Councillors, community elders, Mala leaders and community representatives working together as a team, to shape the direction of Council in our communities.
Q. How do you hope your role will impact your community and what lasting impression do you wish to leave?
When I am finished as President of East Arnhem Regional Council and as a Councillor for the Gumurr Miwatj Ward, I hope that my legacy will be that we have shaped a Council that has frameworks to encourage young people to stand-up, and take on responsibilities as leaders in their own communities. This can be through their involvement in programs that we run, but also at a Local Authority level and on Council. Young people are our future.