March 02, 2020


Ben van Gelderen

Did you know that 2019 was the UN Year of Indigenous languages? In the Northern Territory 30% of the population is Indigenous, with over 100 discrete First Languages still spoken.

Nungalinya College has a long history and ministry with Indigenous Australians. It was established in 1974 as a combined churches training college. It is an ecumenical partnership, formally founded by the Anglican, Uniting and Catholic churches of the Northern Territory, but also supported by various agencies and mission partners such as Church Missionary Society (CMS), Bush Church Aid (BCA), Anglican Board of Mission (ABM) and many others. Nungalinya is situated in Darwin and was named by local Larrakia Elders in reference to the ‘old man rock’, a reef exposed at low tide where young men were taken to learn of their cultural stories. It is an appropriate name, as Nungalinya is the place where the sacred stories of the Scriptures are now passed on from generation to generation.

Nungalinya is also a Registered Training Organization (RTO) and an Indigenous Corporation, and as such, offers accredited VET sector courses in areas of literacy and numeracy, ministry and theology, media and music, and Bible translation. Amidst this diversity, all courses are taught through the Scriptures, as these are the foundation of our faith.

Students travel in to Nungalinya from over 100 communities, usually for four weeks per year, studying in intensive block mode. About 90% of students come from Northern Territory remote communities where English is certainly not the language of communication. However, these same students usually have a strong Christian heritage and faith, often formed through positive memories and stories of the ‘mission’ days.

Many Nungalinya students are ‘Elders’ in both senses of the term; church leaders in their local communities and also respected authorities in traditional knowledge and clan governance. It is difficult to find time to come in to Darwin with the competing priorities of ceremonial and funeral obligations and various important community functions. However, 250-300 students attend each year, to grow in their love of God, to share with other Indigenous people of faith and to learn how to best share the good news within their own contexts. In the profoundest sense, Nungalinya students often express the notion: ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:18).

A real highlight of 2019 was the ‘Multiplying the Multitude’ conference hosted by Nungalinya. Inspired by the heavenly promise of Revelation 7:9

I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb

people from various backgrounds and denominations shared their experiences in First Language ministries. We covered complex issues of language revitalisation, Bible translation, Christian bilingual education, Bible orality, liturgy development and many more. The conference was a wonderful opportunity to both be encouraged and to learn of the challenges and initiatives in the vital ministry area of First Languages. Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, a long-term Bible translator and student of the College, reflected:

Doing Bible translation—I think it’s the number one job! The translation of our Almighty... English is for the mind but Yolŋu matha is for the heart. When we hear God’s word speak to us in the language he has given us, it is more precious, more valuable. It is beautiful.[1]

Please pray for us at Nungalinya College and when your travels take you to Darwin, drop by for morning chapel, a real taste of heaven!


Ben is the Principal and CEO of Nungalinya College and attends Darwin Baptist Church.


[1] If you would like to know more about Nungalinya or Yurranydjil’s story, visit our Youtube site,

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.