Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Health and Society


Social media and mobile phones are a global phenomenon and remote communities in North East Arnhem Land have been drawn into the adoption of these emergent technologies. This study of youth and emergent technology is grounded in a traditional Aboriginal context; a remote community with limited access to resources and employment opportunities. It is important to take into account that this community still practised Aboriginal culture, law, discipline, sorcery, traditional medicine and demand sharing as part of their social life.

This ethnography spanned the duration of three years, applied a series of in-depth interviews which were followed up throughout the fieldwork. The informants and interview participant’s contributions were triangulated with informal discussions and interactions with youth, socio-historical narratives of technology appropriation and relevant findings from key Indigenous academics. The engagement with young people, generally a hard-to-reach population, was carried out within a respectful relationship dictated by Yolngu kinship laws. All interviews and interactions were undertaken in several locations in the town of Nhulunbuy and the communities of Yirrkala and Birritjimi making the environment and space accessible and relevant to Aboriginal participants and intellectuals especially the young people.

The key study questions were to:

• Understand the role of mobile phones and social media in a remote Aboriginal community and how they were used as a combination between the traditional and contemporary (i.e. The Yirrkala Bark Petition);

• Analyse the attitudes towards mobile phones and social media in the community, particularly amongst young people;

• Describe how these new objects (mobile phones and social media) belong in the Yirritja and Dhuwa moieties, and the kinship system;

• Analyse the use of sorcery or ‘accusations and suspicions of sorcery’ in the Yolngu online social life.

The ethnography is a story of youth and their struggles, as a result of disproportionate access to economic resources and opportunities. Their partial resistance to the dominant culture, some traditional and cultural norms, including powerful individuals and families in the community, whilst striving to be part of contemporary global youth culture contributed to their expressed feelings of frustration and lack of hope for the future.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.