The life of E Rubunjta

Mr. Rubuntja was the very essence of compassion, determination, and vision. He was a popular man of our community and a great Indigenous leader, a Senior Arrernte Lawman and a Pastor of the Lutheran Church. He was a wise and highly respected elder of 84 years and is regarded as the founding father of Tangentyere Council, Yipirinya School, and was instrumentally involved in the establishment of Aboriginal organisations such as Central Land Council, Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association and was involved in establishing the Institute from Aboriginal Development as an Aboriginal organisation. He was also founding member of the first Aboriginal Social Club, the Tyeweretye Social Club. E Rubunjta was a real gentle man who radiated an aura of great dignity, honesty and kindness.

Born on the 14th of March 1922 in Hermannsberg (Ntaria), E Rubuntja was strongly influenced by the early Lutheran Missionaries who ministered in the area. From early years, E Rubuntja was sent to school to learn to read and write without losing the significance of his bilingual upbringing, he spoke all of the Arandic languages (9), as well as Pintupi, Warlpiri and Pitjantjatjarra. He also read and wrote several languages, a skill he learned during his early bilingual education.

E Rubuntja was sent by his father to Alice Springs (Mparntwe) in 1958 to protect sites of significance to his Dreaming Stories. His special site was “Anthepe&drquo;, just south of the Gap. Over the last decades E Rubuntja lived at &dlquo;Anthepe” Camp, with many of his family.

E Rubunjta was a founding member of Tangentyere Council. In the early 1970s, E Rubuntja along side with his brother W Rubunjta fought for the rights of his fellow town campers in the town which had been relegated to the fringes. The brothers saw a need for an Aboriginal controlled council to provide basic services, such as running water and shelter to Aboriginal people living on the fringes of the town and ensured the (now) special purpose leases and permanent housing for his fellow town campers; and the formation of Tangentyere Council.

Mr Rubuntja held the Presidency of the Tangentyere Council for many years, and was part of the heart and soul of the Council; providing leadership and governance for 30 years resulting in the development of opportunities and access to services, education and employment for many Aboriginal people. He was an endless source of support and guidance.

Around the same, when his children were going to school in Alice Springs, Pastor Rubuntja quickly realized his children were not receiving the bilingual and cultural education he valued so highly. He directed his energies towards establishing a proper school for the children of the Traditional Aboriginal people who lived on the “Town Camps”. Yipirinya School was set up alongside Tangentyere Council and later received land, in the White Euro Dreaming site and a good place for the school.

Coming, as E Rubuntja did, from an educational and social context where his language and culture was strongly valued and supported, it is very clear why he was at the forefront of the struggle for an Aboriginal Independent Bilingual School which would operate in Alice Springs. He was a strong advocate for two way learning.

E Rubuntja was elected President of the School Council and for the past 20 years and continued to be an active Council Executive Member and the School Council’s first Life Member. He continued to work with many others, who shared his dream, as active school council members and teachers of culture. His extraordinary leadership and wisdom gave the School Council the strength it has today.

E Rubunjta was a man of great generosity of spirit and determination to see principles of justice passed on to the younger generation and the broader community.

After many years working as an evangelist, E Rubuntja was ordained as a Lutheran Pastor in 1983 and become an “Inkgarte”. His congregation became the same people on whose behalf he was campaigning for social improvement. He serviced and provided pastoral care to many living in the Town Camps of Alice Springs and nearby communities.

In recent years E Rubuntja requested that an old house at Anthepe Camp be converted into a space he could use as a Church. And there he continued conducting church services right up until the time of his illness in June. Almost one year ago E Rubuntja ministered at the funeral of his brother W Rubuntja.

E Rubuntja had an on-going commitment to the support of a large extended family, including his own children and grandchildren. One of E Rubuntja’s admirable qualities was persistent support for this family, in spite of the trials they had often put him through. He worried for their welfare and other personal crises they encountered.

E Rubuntja was an excellent example of reconciliation through his contribution to the Aboriginal Community and the broader community by ensuring that Aboriginal people have agency in their lives.

E Rubuntja was renown as a champion runner, entering races in Melbourne and Bendigo and Warnambool and came Runner Up in the Park Handicap over 100 yards at the Stawell Easter Gift Athletics Meet in 1946.

In 1999 he received the Commonwealth Recognition Award for Senior Australians. In 2000 he was named NAIDOC Centralian of the Year. In 2001 he received the Governor-General Centenary Medal granted for major contributions of service to the Australian people.

All of E Rubunjta’s magnificent dreams are now his proud rewards, achieved whilst ministering to the spiritual needs of his people, a duty of care he followed, epitomizing his patience and tenacity in the face of insurmountable odds.

E Rubuntja died on the 1st of July 2006, at the age of 84.

The life of E Rubuntja is an inspiration to many. And his long struggle for justice and care for his people challenges all of us. His gentleness, affection and humour have touched so many. He will be deeply missed.


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4 Elder Street
Alice Springs,
NT 0870
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Alice Springs,
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Tangentyere Council