Maningrida is a self-governing indigenous community in the heart of the Arnhem Land region of Australia’s Northern Territory. Maningrida is located 500 km east of Darwin and 300 km north east of Jabiru. It is on the North Central Arnhem Land coast of the Arafura Sea, on the estuary of the Liverpool River. The Kunibídji people are the traditional landowners of this country. The name Maningrida is an Anglicised version of the Kunibídji name Manayingkarírra, which comes from the phrase Mane djang karirra, meaning “the place where the dreaming changed shape.” The town supports a population of 2,600 people, which includes those who live on the 30 homeland centres or outstations around Maningrida. Major players in the town’s economic and political life include the “Maningrida JET Centre,” the “Maningrida Council Inc.,” the “Maningrida Progress Association,” the “Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation,” and the “Maningrida Arts and Culture” artist’s co-op.
The township of Maningrida dates back to just after World War 2, when Welfare Branch patrol officers Sid Kyle-Little and Jack Doolan were sent by the government to set up a ration-cum-trade post there. This was converted by Dave and Ingrid Drysdale into a permanent Welfare Department settlement from 1957, partly to quell the post-war migration of Aboriginal people from the Blyth and Liverpool Rivers regions into Darwin. Patrols went out to spread the word and encourage people to move into the settlement. Within a few years, many people from the surrounding area lived in Maningrida.
The north central Arnhem Land area now serviced by Maningrida extends from Marrkolidjban in Eastern Kunwinjku country to the west, to Berriba in Dangbon country in the south, and over as far as Yinangarnduwa, or Cape Stewart, in the east. In per capita terms, it is perhaps the most multilingual community in the world. The linguistic variety is echoed by the cultural diversity in the area, evidenced by the number of different religious ceremonies and the multitude of artistic forms in design, music and dance. People speak Ndjébbana, eastern Kunwinjku, Kune, Rembarrnga, Dangbon/Dalabon, Nakkara, Gurrgoni, Djinang, Wurlaki, Ganalbingu, Gupapuyngu, Kunbarlang, Gun-nartpa, Burarra, and English. Most people have command of at least three of these languages.