Jawoyn leaders and their community have paid tribute to Dr John Ah Kit as a man who never stopped championing the rights of their people and Aboriginal people across the Northern Territory and Australia.
The Jawoyn Association closed its office last Monday following the passing of the man they affectionately call Bangardi, a name given to him through his adoption by a prominent elder.
Tomorrow, Jawoyn people join with others in Darwin for his official farewell at Marrara stadium.
The association’s chair Lisa Mumbin said saying goodbye fills everyone with sadness, but it’s important to celebrate his life and the tireless work he did for Jawoyn people and the Katherine region over decades.
“Bangardi Ah Kit was there from the beginning alongside Ray Fordimail, Robert Lee, John Fletcher, Chips Mackinolty and others working hard with our elders on our land claim over Nitmiluk,” Ms Mumbin said.
He then helped to establish the Jawoyn Association and eventually became the association’s director from 1991 to 1995.
“He was a big player in our fight to stop mining at our sacred site Guratba at Coronation Hill and a driving force with Galarrwuy Yunupingu on the Barunga Statement that called for a treaty.
“Bangardi also advocated for better health services in the region, and at one point negotiated with the government to give Katherine its first dialysis machine when people were forced to travel to Darwin to get treatment.”
Ms Mumbin said Mr Ah Kit remained a consistent confidante and advisor to Jawoyn.
“He worked with us many times over the years, he represented our region in parliament and then when he retired from politics Bangardi Lee asked him to come back as a special adviser, and he continued through to recently,” Ms Mumbin said.
Nitmiluk Tours CEO Jane Runyu Fordimail said he was also a big supporter of tourism in the region.
“Sharing Nitmiluk country was the dream and vision of our elders, which Bangardi never forgot and he was always there for us supporting both Nitmiluk Tours and Cicada Lodge,” Ms Runyu-Fordimail said.
“A few years ago, he helped convince the Northern Territory Government that 10 million dollars set aside for a walkway in Nitmiluk National Park would be better spent on upgrades in the park.
“The government agreed and upgrades have been happening ever since and include a refurbished visitor centre, a new cultural site and new mountain bike tracks - a lasting legacy for everyone in the region.”
“He was also very proud of the many national tourism awards we’ve won in recent years.”
Jawoyn elders recognised Jak’s connection and commitment to their people and vision very early, and they honoured his contribution.
“A special bond between Jak and senior Jawoyn elder Marnakolorlo Alice Mitchell grew after he first came to Katherine and worked at Kalano and then began helping with the Nitmiluk land claim.
“She adopted him into her clan and kinship system,” Ms Mumbin said.
“Marnakolorlo was strong in culture and the lore - many called her the Jawoyn Queen - she was a famous artist who painted the bolung that appears in our Jawoyn logo today, which tells the story of Nitmiluk.
“Her adoption made him my brother in our culture, he was a special brother to me and he was also an important leader and mentor as well.”
“He was an inspiration to us as the next generation - and everyone loved his laugh, and his fun, cheeky humour,” Ms Runyu-Fordimail added.
“He will be deeply missed.”
The Jawoyn Association, Nitmiluk Tours and the broader Jawoyn community extend our heartfelt condolences to Bangardi’s family - our family.
We thank Bangardi for his tireless work, dedication and passion - it will never be forgotten.