Gunbalanya, also known as Oenpelli, is an Aboriginal community in Northern Territory, Australia. It is located approximately 300 kilometers east of Darwin on the western border of Kakadu National Park. This community is made up of a number of Aboriginal clans. The main language spoken in Gunbalanya is Kunwinjku, yet, the community administratively operates in English. Access to Gunbalanya requires a permit from the Northern Land Council, which is limited due to seasonal conditions. During the dry season (May to September), road access to Gunbalanya is available. However, the East Alligator River at Cahill’s crossing cannot be passed during the wet season (October to April) due to water levels.
Gunbalanya is surrounded by coastal plains of black soil, as well as swamps and escarpment country. Since the community is located on the edge of Kakadu, it is popular with tourists visiting Kakadu National Park or taking part in tours. Gunbalanya has Injalak Art and Craft Centre where tourists can purchase artwork. There are also walking tours available around Injalak Hill, a site that contains ancient Aboriginal rock art paintings. Additionally, they have The Stone Country Festival (formerly Gunbalanya Cultural Open Day) is usually held in August and access for this is allowed without obtaining a permit.
Image Attribution: By Jason Motbey - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6751170
Gunbalanya is situated in West Arnhem Land. Located about 330 km east of Darwin and 60 km north-east of Jabiru. It is near the East Alligator River and the Arnhem Land Escarpment.
From Darwin, get on Tiger Brennan Dr to National Highway 1 in Holtze. Follow Arnhem Highway to Oenpelli road in Kakadu. Continue the highway going to in Gunbalanya.
From Jabiru, head northeast on Jabiru Dr toward Buchanan Rd and then turn left onto Arnhem Highway. Continue onto Oenpelli Rd until you reach Gunbalanya. Roads from Arnhem Highway/Oenpelli Rd to Gunbalanya Internal are partially restricted.
If you are travelling independently, permits for road travel going to Arnhem Land can be organised in the Northern Land Council offices in Darwin or Jabiru and have at least 10 working days to finalise.
There is no direct bus from Darwin going to Gunbalanya. However, you can take a bus and a taxi going to the location. The bus is serviced by Greyhound Australia and operates 2 times a week, departing from Darwin going to Aurora Kakadu Lodge. From the lodge, you can take a taxi going to Gunbalanya. In general, travel time is approximately 4 hours.
There are charter flights going to Oenpelli Airport. The airfield can accommodate all weather and night landings. Travel time takes approximately 45 minutes from Darwin whilst 20 minutes from Jabiru.
Aboriginal people have inhabited this region for more than 40,000 years. Around the 1900s, European buffalo shooters arrived in the area. They brought western goods with them such as tobacco, sugar, and alcohol to trade for access and buffalo hides. Due to this, major tribes of Western Arnhem Land, made their way westwards towards the buffalo camps and new mining settlements. They were attracted by the supply of western goods and education for their children. Some of these Aboriginal people choose to live in the camps or in the newly established cattle stations.
One of the early buffalo shooters was Paddy Cahill who established a cattle station in the Gunbalanya region. In 1916 the Australian Government bought the station, but it stopped operating due to the industrial disputes. Anglican missionaries arrived in 1916 and remained until the early 1970s. These missionaries established gardening, livestock management, a community centre shop, health and education. However, the mission withdrew in the 1970s and local council was established in 1976.
West Arnhem Shire Council
GPO Box 4246 Darwin NT 0801
Ph: 08 8979 9444