The community of Nauiyu Nambiyu or Daly River has around 450 residents and is the home of the Merrepen Arts. Pidgin is spoken throughout the region, but the two major traditional language groups are Ngan’gikurrungurr and Ngen’giwumirri. There are another 10 minority language groups still in use in the area Marrithiel, Marrigarr, Marrimananyti, Malak Malak, (who are the traditional owners of the community) Matngala, Ngan gikurunggurr, Ngen giwumirri.
The small community is situated 240 kilometers south of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. It sits in the valley next to the Daly River surrounded by hills and billabongs and has an abundant supply of bush tucker, as well as the barramundi that the Daly River is famous for.
Jesuit missionaries arrived in 1886 and were involved in missionary work at different locations in the area. Believing that development was a prerequisite of ‘Christianizing’ the local Aborigines, they concentrated on agricultural development, medical aid, and education for children. However, poor soil, sickness, failing crops, and lack of interest from the locals forced the Jesuits to give up and abandon the post in 1899.
In the 1930s, peanuts and tobacco as well as other crops were grown on several commercial farms near the river, owned by new settlers to the area both Chinese and European. More and more Aboriginal people settled in the area working on these farms.
In 1954 the people of Daly approached Bishop O’Loughlin asking for a rural health clinic and a school to be established. In 1955 the missionaries of the “Sacred Heart” built a rural health clinic and established a school, church, convent, accommodation, work sheds and an air strip. Local children were moved into the newly built dormitories and were educated at the boarding school established by the Catholic Church.
In 1970 the Daly River Community Development Association was formed with the assistance of the Northern Territory self-government project. In 1988 the community was incorporated under the local government with the name Nauiyu Nambiyu, meaning “coming together in one place”, or “meeting place”.
When the Catholic Church missionaries first came they regarded the land as terra nullius, and claimed the land for the crown. They have now returned ownership to the traditional owners, who act as trustees of the area. There are twenty-eight different descent groups that act as trustees.
Extract from We Paint the Story of our Culture! A Study of the Aboriginal Art Movement at Merrepen Art Centre, Daly River by Maria Øien (2005)