One of the largest communities in western Cape York, Aurukun is located at the mouth of the Archer, Watson and Ward rivers.
Aurukun is steeped in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural history. The community still embraces and demonstrates its strong cultural values and belief systems.
History and resilience
The Wik and Wik Waya people have lived in the area for many thousands of years and are recognised as the Traditional Owners of a large area between Pormpuraaw and Weipa.
In 1605, the Dutch ship Duyfken, under Captain Willem Janszoon, sailed down the west coast of Cape York Peninsula and made the first recorded Dutch landing in Australia at Cape Keerweer, south of Aurukun.
Aurukun itself was originally known as the Archer River Mission Settlement and was established in 1904 for the Presbyterian Church.
Wik and Wik Waya People
The Wik and Wik Waya People are culturally affiliated among five spiritual clan groupings – Apalech, Winchanam, Wanam, Chara and Puutch.
Various recognised languages are spoken in the Aurukun area. Most community members speak and have full competence in four or five languages.
The dialects spoken are inherited by way of clan birth and relationship to country. Wik Muungkan [Wick Mun-kin] is the predominant dialect used by the Wik and Wik Waya people.
Indigenous land rights
The Wik and Wika Waya people have a prominent place in the history of Indigenous land rights in Australia.
In 1976, John Koowarta, a Winchanam man from Aurukun, sought the right to purchase the Archer River cattle station – although, after a successful legal case, the land was gazetted as a National Park.
The success of the Wik native title claim, following a High Court decision in 1996, was a landmark in Australian legal history and established that native title could co-exist with pastoral leases over land.
The Wik and Wik Waya people now hold native title rights over a large area of western Cape York.
Artists from Aurukun have attracted international recognition with numerous Australian and global exhibitions.
The Wik and Kugu Arts Centre began as an independent arts initiative in the 1990s and was officially established in 2001 to service artists from the five Aurukun clan groups.
The Art Centre comprises a men’s art studio and workshop, a women’s art studio—named after eminent artist Akay Koo’ Oila— and a gallery space.
Aurukun artists are renowned for the exquisite wooden sculptures produced in the men’s workshop, which represent an extension of traditional cultural practices related to animal totems.
In addition to the carved sculptures, the men produce bold ochre and charcoal works referencing traditional body painting designs, and more contemporary prints.
The women produce acrylic paintings mixed with ochre, and are well known for their Aurukun-specific Feather Flowers and God’s Eyes.