Punkaliyarra: A Beacon of Aboriginal Matriarchal Leadership

24th May 2024

Photo Credit: Tamali Smith

In May 2023, Yindjibarndi Elder and Punkaliyarra Co-Creator Michelle Adams spoke at the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Wiyi Yani U Thangani Summit in Canberra (Wiyi Yani U Thangani

translates to ‘Women’s Voices’ in Australian Human Rights Commissioner June Oscar’s Bunaba language). Following the summit, the

women from Roebourne were invited to present Punkaliyarra at the launch of a newly established First Nations Gender Justice Institute at Australian National University in March 2024. This Institute, the first of its kind in the world, was established to elevate and invest in the voices and solutions of First Nations women and girls to drive social, economic, and ecological impact. The launch of the Institute was a significant event, attended by influential figures and accessible via livestream.

The preparation for the presentation involved intensive rehearsals and workshops, in Roebourne, Sydney and Canberra.Musical and singing mentor Shellie Morris spent a week learning the grandmother’s song from Yindjibarndi Elder Allery Sandy and Ngarluma Elder Jean Churnside. Choreographer and dancer Keia McGrady worked with the young women Nina Allen and Hannah Phillips on choreography, movement, performance preparation, and script rehearsals.

The presentation was a resounding success, with a standing ovation from the audience. The Punkaliyarra cast beautifully conveyed Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi women’s fight for Country, culture, and language through song, spoken word, dance, film, animation, anecdotes about strong women in their families, and enactments of women-led rituals.

The project also facilitated a cultural exchange between the women of Roebourne and two Yuin women from the NSW South Coast. Senior Yuin Elder Aunty Sharon Mason and Yuin woman Ashweeni Maron participated in the exchange. This exchange was initiated in September 2023 and further discussions are planned for late 2024. The cultural exchange provided a platform for the women to share their unique cultural knowledge and practices. It fostered a sense of community and sisterhood among the women, strengthening their bonds across geographical distances.

Punkaliyarra is more than a project; it’s a movement that solidifies the importance and the power of sharing culture through the arts for the next generation. It’s a testament to the resilience, strength, and leadership of Aboriginal women, and a beacon of hope for future generations.

Photo Credit: Tamali Smith



All Photos Credited to Tamali Smith