Eulogy at the memorial service for Dr Marika
I would like to acknowledge the traditional lands of the Rirratjingu people. I also want to convey the Prime Minister’s condolences.
Dr Marika, a Rirratjingu woman from Yirrkala, was very much her father’s daughter. Roy Marika taught his daughter community and culture; he taught her how to hunt and from him she learned a deep sense of justice and compassion.
Dr Marika’s father was one of the Yolngu men who travelled from Arnhem Land to Canberra in 1963 to present the Yirrkala petitions.
Their appeal was refused. But the bark petitions are still displayed in Parliament House for all to see.
When her father set out from Yirrkala, Dr Marika was just a little girl. I wonder at the impact this had on a five year old child. And I wonder if his journey, in some part, set her life’s course.
Dr Marika will be remembered by many people across many cultures.
Her unique, free-ranging intellect encompassed her own Yolngu culture and mainstream Australia.
Her enthusiasm and ability to live and thrive in both cultures was an extraordinary example to all of us.
She brought breathtaking insight to her mission.
She said that the confluence of the two cultures was quite simply ‘where the salt water coming in from the sea meets the stream of fresh water coming down from the land’
It was her unshakeable belief that both cultures could and should be lived and nurtured in a way that preserved and respected each of them.
Dr Marika was an exceptional linguist and teacher. With her colleague Mandawuy Yunupingu, she was instrumental in developing the Yolngu curriculum.
Education, both her own and that of others, was always a driving force. Always restless to learn, to analyse, to listen, to teach, she gained a postgraduate certificate in education from the University of Melbourne.
A true intellectual she was always generous with her knowledge, always eagerly passing it on – through conversation, publication and discussion. And always leavened with humour and enlivened with her warmth. Her warm embrace which I can still feel.
She believed that her knowledge of her beloved culture was a gift to all Australians…and it was.
Dr Marika’s academic abilities were recognised with an Honorary Doctorate from the Charles Darwin University and her appointment as a Senior Fellow.
She was immersed in her culture, but happily adopted others. I’m told that one of her western cultural passions was Elvis Presley and that once she squeezed in a quick visit to that famous Elvis shrine – Gracelands.
She travelled widely. She brought her passion for the Yolngu culture and her vision for a reconciled and harmonious Australia south to Canberra.
Seven years ago, she became a member of the Council of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and her tireless work for reconciliation was recognised when she was appointed to the board of Reconciliation Australia.
Her remarkable achievements were acknowledged when she was named 2006 Northern Territorian of the Year, and last year’s NT Australian of the Year.
Her death just six weeks short of her 50th birthday was a sad and sudden loss to all of us.
To her people, her family, her many friends, students and colleagues.
And a sad loss to all those Australians who believe, as Dr Marika did, that our two cultures can merge and blend and grow stronger just as ‘the salt water coming in from the sea meets the stream of fresh water coming down from the land’.