Nauiyu – Daly River, Northern Territory

A Landscape Of Plenty

Before the arrival of white settlers, the landscape along the Daly River was home to many different Aboriginal clans who shared songlines and operated cooperatively to share plenties of nature that the river supported.  Historical middens and paintings show the breadth and longevity of this habitation and the languages of many of these clans are still spoken today.  There were no towns as such and people knew their local landscape intimately.

1885 Jesuit Mission

The town that is Nauiyu today is situated approximately 250km by road South West of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia.  It began life as a Jesuit Mission which was first established in 1885 with 3 missionaries.  By 1891 it had four priests and seven brothers. 

1955 Catholic Mission

 In 1955 the Catholic church purchased a local farm to build a new mission which opened in 1961.  The mission was set up as a place where Aboriginals could send their children to get an education whilst they worked on local cattle stations and farms.  Cattle stations and farms employed a good proportion of the local Indigenous people and workers were paid in produce such as flour, sugar and tobacco.  The Indigenous people were also allowed to set up camp and live on the pastoral lands in which they worked.

1970-80s Pastoral Changes Displaced Aboriginals

In the 1970s and ’80s laws were passed that were meant to help Aboriginal families.  These laws stipulated that Aboriginal families were to be paid a proper wage rather than being paid in produce.  This however backfired and meant that many Indigenous families were displaced from local farms and retreated to the mission to avoid homelessness.

16 Language Types

Following the displacement, with nowhere else to go, 16 different Aboriginal language groups (peoples) ended up living together on the mission at Nauiyu.

In 1992, after a 14-year process of investigation and verification,  the traditional owners of the land surrounding Nauiyu, the Malak Malak people, were awarded title over much of their homelands. The Malak Malak people speak two languages, Malak Malak and Matngele and now live both in Nauiyu and downstream at Wooliana.

These land rights were entrenched by the Nauiyu Nambiyu Land Trust Deed of 1 December 2009.  They include Members of the Ngangiwumirri, Ngangikururngdurr, Marrimananytyi, Marrithiel, Tyingli, Matngala, Marringar, Malak Malak, Ngarinyman, Kunuwinkyku, Murrinpatha, Batyamal, Mayali, Marrununggu, Tiwi, Ngandi, Mara language groups represented by 16 named trustees.  

Although the land on which the Nauiyu community sits on is still owned by the Catholic Church (to ensure no one on the mission was made homeless by the changes in the land titles), there are still strong ties between some members of the community and the church.  The Nauiyu township now operates independently of the mission and functions as a remote Aboriginal community.


Nauiyu is set on the banks of the Daly River which snakes its way around the community.  It is regarded as one of the best fishing sites to catch barramundi in Australia. Each year it hosts two fishing competitions, the “Barra Classic” and the “Barra Nationals”. As such the region is busy during the tourist season from April through to September.  Fishing tourism is the main economy in the area and is managed by non-indigenous people with little if any indigenous involvement.

Bush Tucker

Bush tucker is plentiful and forms a large part of the Indigenous diet.  Turtles, water pythons, barramundi and magpie geese are all cooked in the traditional style buried in the ground with ash and coals.  Damper and honey are a regular treat along with a few different varieties of bush plums and bush potatoes.  

Hunting & Fishing

The locals enjoy the river and its surrounding lowlands.  Hunting, fishing and spending time out “on country” are pastimes enjoyed by everyone in the community.  Sports of all descriptions are loved and played at every opportunity.  Aussie rules football and basketball are two particular favourites and the community has a wonderfully maintained football oval.