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Gunbalanya (also spelt Kunbarllanjnja, and historically referred to as Oenpelli) is an Aboriginal community in west Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. The main languages spoken in the community are Kunwinjku, Burarra and Kriol. At the 2006 census, Gunbalanya had a population of 881.
The area now known as Gunbalanya was called "Unbalanj" by the Mengerrdji speaking people who were its original inhabitants. It is called Kunbarllanjnja by Kunwinjku speaking people, who began moving into the area from the east following the creation of a cattle station there in 1909. Gunbalanya is an anglicisation of Kunbarllanjnja, which is itself related to the local word Unbalanj. The alternative name for the town, Oenpelli, is a corruption of Unbalanj and was coined by Paddy Cahill, the founder of the original cattle station.
The sealed Arnhem Highway links Darwin to Jabiru, the town within Kakadu National Park. About four kilometres before Jabiru, the sealed road turns off to Ubirr, the Border Store, Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River and Oenpelli. The road is dirt from the East Alligator to just before Gunbalanya, a distance of about 16 kilometres. While this road is generally navigable by four wheel drive vehicle, the river crossing is a causeway which is closed by flooding during the wet season (November to April) and at high tides.
Dry season travellers are able to drive the 300 km from Darwin in about three hours and 60 km from Jabiru in under an hour. Northern Land Council permits are required to cross the East Alligator River, the western boundary of Arnhem Land, and travel east to Gunbalanya.
Oenpelli Airport is a sealed all weather airstrip located in Gunbalanya, and a number of companies offer charter flights to and from this airport.
The local radio station is called "RIBS" for Remote Indigenous Broadcasting Service.
|Climate data for Oenpelli (Gunbalanya)|
|Record high °C (°F)||38.1|
|Average high °C (°F)||33.1|
|Average low °C (°F)||24.5|
|Record low °C (°F)||17.5|
|Rainfall mm (inches)||340.9|
|Avg. rainy days||20.5||19.5||18.1||6.9||1.7||0.4||0.3||0.2||0.7||2.6||9.3||16.4||96.6|
Permits for road travel into Arnhem Land can be organised at the Northern Land Council offices in Darwin or Jabiru and may take up to two weeks to finalise. Many visitors prefer to see Arnhem Land through an organised tour operation.
The Stone Country Festival (formerly Gunbalanya Cultural Open Day) is usually held in August and access for this is allowed without permit. Though an annual event, it is sometimes not able to be organised in a given year.
Western Arnhem Land is home to some of the most significant rock art in the world. It has arguably the world's longest continuing artistic traditions - with rock art dating back thousands of years and still being produced today.
Local artistic traditions are continued and adapted by the Injalak Arts Centre. Injalak Arts is named after nearby Injalak Hill, which has many rock art galleries and is the main tourist attraction in Gunbalanya.
Oenpelli, as it was known then, was established as a mission in 1925 by the Church of England's Church Missionary Society, on a former cattle station. It was run in its earlier years by the founder, the Rev Alfred Dyer, and his wife Mary. They established a typical mission station, with church, school, dispensary, garden and store, to which they added pastoral work with feral cattle and horses. Among those who attended the mission school was the celebrated Gagudju elder and interpreter of culture, Bill Neidjie.
Oenpelli remained a mission until 1975, when responsibility was transferred to an aboriginal town council and the name was changed to Gunbalanya.
The 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land visited Oenpelli for three months and collected a large array of local artefacts, art, and specimens.