Profile: Dr Wayne Atkinson-Yorta Yorta

Dr Wayne Atkinson is an elder of the Yorta  Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung Indigenous Nations of the Murray-Goulburn and Central Victoria  region, Australia-see-Biography. For most of his life he has worked extensively in Indigenous Affairs, specialising in research, writing, teaching Indigenous studies, and in land and heritage reform.  For the past three decades Wayne has worked on Yorta Yorta land and heritage matters and was a principle claimant in the Yorta Yorta Native Title Claim (1994-2002). He was responsible for researching and preparing the previous claim of 1984, which formed the basis of the Yorta Yorta v State of Victoria and Ors (1994-2002).

The Yorta Yorta case was dismissed on appeal to the High Court in December 2002, but the Yorta Yorta bounced back and negotiated land justice and land management agreements with the State,  as the Traditional Owners of their ancestral lands and waters. This was successfully achieved in 2008-9, through the political campaign for National Parks and Joint Management Agreements of the Barmah-Millewa Forest Wetlands which is the heartland of their traditional territories. This remarkable story will be a key  feature of this site-see Yorta Yorta Struggle for Land Justice.

Facebook Connection


Teaching Oncountry Group:  Academy of Sport Health & Education, Shepparton, 2011

Academic Background:

Wayne completed his academic studies with LaTrobe University and was selected as Indigenous scholar of the year in 1996. His studies are in the disciplines of Archaeology, History, Politics and Legal Studies, which he used to complete a PhD on the Yorta Yorta Struggle for Land Justice in 2000. The thesis analyses the extent to which the Yorta Yorta have gained land justice on the basis of their inherent rights. In the words of  his great Uncle William Cooper, a National and International campaigner for Indigenous justice, the thesis argues that ‘Not One Iota’ has been delivered to his people.  Whether the creation  of National Parks, Joint Management and the option of a hand back leaseback agreement,  delivers the land justice that the  Yorta Yorta have waited patiently for,  is now back on the front of the political agenda.

Indigenous Studies Courses being taught at University of Melbourne

Dr Atkinson was recently recognised as a  Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He continues to teach Indigenous Studies at the University and  many other Education Institutions in Australia and overseas. His course: POLS30028: Oncountry  Learning, that he teaches in Yorta Yorta  country has achieved outstanding success. The course combines the talents and teaching skills of  Yorta Yorta achievers,  Lou Bennett, Shane Charles and Yorta Yorta elders-see Quality of Teaching Results. As a Senior Fellow and Yorta Yorta elder, Dr Atkinson mentors other Indigenous students and is currently working on research projects focused on family history and  comparative Indigenous history  in  Ireland,  Mauritius  and India.

On the social side, Wayne is an accomplished musician, playing guitar, bass guitar and doing vocals and harmonies with the legendary Shades band of Echuca. He also played with many other bands in the country and city gigs, and continues to encourage members of his broader family group to pursue music as a career path. He mentors his niece and daughts Lou Bennett  in her music career with the famous Tiddas Band that achieved National and International fame in the 90s. His nephew Simon Johnson is also the Bass player and  backup vocalist with popular Indigenous musician, Troy Cassar Daly.


Dr Wayne Atkinson

International Experience: 

In his  pursuit of knowledge and cross cultural understanding, Wayne has  travelled extensively and contributed to building bridges between, local and Indigenous groups throughout the world.  His  journeys of educational learning  have included North America, Europe, the South Pacific, Asia, South America and recently  Mauritius and India. He conducted research, gave talks in Universities, collected genealogical data and presented papers on comparative Indigenous issues. He has giving lectures and talks in London, Leicester, National University of Ireland, Galway, Hokkaido  University, Japan, Prato, Italy, Mauritius, India, New Zealand. In 20010 he visited China to study water and cultural heritage issues and has recently done cultural heritage visits to sites in Ecuador as a guest of the Kichwa people and to Machu Pichu in Peru, South America to study the cultural heritage of the famous Inca Nation.  As a Visiting Fellow at the National University of Ireland Galway Wayne is a regular visitor and participant in the Summer School in Irish Studies and completed a Certificate program in the  Cinema Human Rights and Advocacy Summer School, Galway, 2013. He has  written extensively on British Colonial policy and practice in former British colonies tracing the origins of the reserve system and the policy of segregation and control back to 16th Century British policy and practice in Ireland.

International study visits have included Indochina where I visited sites in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia to gain a broader understanding of south East Asian history, culture and economic development. While in south East Asia I visited to the Hill Tribes of Thailand and stayed in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. I have conducted research in Portugal, and Spain and studied Western European colonisation in the 1517th Century and its impact on Indigenous Australia in the 18th Century. Whilst in Spain I took special interest in  the ‘Treaty of Tordesillas’ signed  between the Portuguese and the Spanish at Tordesillas, Spain, 1494  which divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between Spain and Portugal.  Research materials from this visit are used for lectures on Colonisation, at the University of Melbourne and the Victoria University, 2010-13.

Mauritius & India Research: Thomas Shadrach James (1859-1946)

From  2012-2014  I have worked on a family history research project. The project traced the origins of Thomas Shadrach James parents and relatives back to Mauritius, Chennai, formerly Madras in the Tamil Nadu region of India and Sri Lanka. I was able to locate the birthplace of Granpa James  parents and relatives in Mauritius, India and Sri Lanka. The research project  will add to the heritage of Thomas Shadrach James, his studies at the University of Tasmania and Melbourne, and his marriage into  the Yorta Yorta community in 1885.  His dedication to our peoples  education and  wellbeing has left a profound legacy for descendants,  many of whom have followed his footsteps,  and achieved in higher education at the University of Melbourne- see photos of graduates at Murrup, Barak, Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development, University of Melbourne.  This is a work in progress project  dedicated to the  memory of Granpa James’ amazing contribution to the Yorta Yorta Struggle.

In teaching outcomes, Dr Atkinson was awarded the prestigious  Australian Government Teaching Award  for Teaching Excellence, 2013.  In his drive for knowledge and greater understanding,  Wayne has continued his worldly travels focusing on Archaeological sites and history at the Altamira Rock Art site in Northern Spain and some of the political history of the Catalonia and Bask Region of Spain. On return to Australia he spent some time in Eastern Europe familiarising himself with the pre and post war political history of Slovenia in the former Balkans region, under the former Hungarian -Austrian Empire , 1867-1918. He also completed studies in Sri Lanka in 2016 as the last leg of the Family History project discussed. Plans for futher studies and travels are underway for this year, 2017,  after  teaching the  Oncountry Learning course now in its 14th Year.

Written Work

Atkinson, W.R. A Picture from the Other Side: Oral History of Cummergunja, Manuscript, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1981.

Atkinson, W.R. Oral History: Oral History: An Aboriginal Perspective on Collection & Documentation, in Aborigines and Schooling, ed. W. Menary, Adelaide College of the Arts and Education, 1981.

Atkinson, W. R. A Look at North American Indian History Programs: Some ideas for Aboriginal Programs in Australia, Australian Government Publishers Canberra, 1982.

Atkinson, W.R & Berryman, A. Aboriginal Associations with the Murray Valley Study Region, Victorian Land Conservation, Council, Report, 1983.

Atkinson, W., Langton, M., Wanganeen, D., Williams, M. Aboriginal History: A Celebration of  Resistance to Colonisation, in Hill, M., Barlow, A, eds Black Australia 2, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Canberra, 1983.

Atkinson,W.R. Growing up on the Mooroopna Flat, in Jackomos, A & Fowell, D. Living Aboriginal History of Victoria: Stories in the Oral Tradition, Museum of Victoria, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1991, pp.178-193 (Extracts of Oral Knowledge).

Atkinson, W.R. Deaths in Custody & Inequality for Indigenous Australians Increases, in Wirridjiri, Koori Edition of Rabelais August 1995.

Atkinson, W.R. The Question of Indigenous Sovereignty,   in Wirridjiri, Koori Edition of Rabelais August 1995.

Atkinson, W.R., Poulter, J. The Origins of Aboriginal Football Skills, in Wirridjiri, Koori Edition of Rabelais August 1995.

Atkinson, W.R. Koori Cultural Heritage in Victoria & the Struggle for Ownership & Control, Hons Thesis, Law Faculty & Indigenous Studies, LaTrobe University, 1996.

Atkinson, W.R. The Yorta Yorta Struggle for Justice Continues, in Majah: Indigenous Peoples and the Law, ed Greta Bird, Gary Martin, Jennifer Nielson, The Federation Press, Sydney 1996.

Atkinson, W.R. Historic Overview of the Aboriginal Experience, in Aboriginal Health: The Ethical Challenges, ed Norman Ford, Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, Melbourne, 1998.

Atkinson,W.R. Not One Iota: The Yorta Yorta Struggle for Land Justice, PhD Thesis, Faculty of Law, LaTrobe University, 2000.

Atkinson, W.R. Pathway to Land Justice through Legislation & the Common Law, in Not One Iota: The Yorta Yorta Struggle for Land Justice, PhD Thesis, Faculty of Law, LaTrobe University, Chaper 5. The Mabo Setting, 2000.

Atkinson, W.R. Management Plan for Barmah-Millewa Forest, Manuscript, Yorta Yorta Nations Aboriginal Corporation, Barmah, 2000.

Atkinson, W.R. Yorta Yorta Survival, From: Atkinson. W. R. Not One Iota: The Yorta Yorta Struggle for Land Justice, PhD Thesis, LaTrobe Univetsity, 2000, Chapter 3.

Atkinson, W.R. 19 Seconds of Djunguma  Waala (Yorta Yorta word for big flood), Reflections paper following Olney Decision, 2000.

Atkinson, W.R. Not One Iota: Reflections on the Yorta Yorta Native Title Claim, 1994-200, in Indigenous Law Bulletin, February – March Vol 5, Issue 6. 2001.

Atkinson, W.R. A Holistic View of Land & Heritage,Paper presented in Indigenous Rights: Land & Heritage Course, School of Social & Political Science, University of Melbourne, 2001.

Atkinson, W.R. Mediating the Mindset of Opposition: Yorta Yorta Mediation Process, 1995, in Indigenous Law Bulletin, February -March Vol 5, Issue 6. 2002.

Atkinson, W.R. Reflections on the High Court Decision in the Yorta Yorta Native Title Case, 2003.

Atkinson, W.R. What did the vote mean to the Yorta Yorta, in Chesterman, J. & Phillips, D. eds Selective Democracy: Race, Gender and the Australian Vote, Melbourne Publishing Group, Armidale, Victoria, 2003.

Atkinson, W.R. Giving Voice to Indigenous Australia, Hyllus Maris Memorial Lecture, LaTrobe University, Bulletin News, 2003.

Atkinson, W.R. Reconciliation & Land Justice: You cant have one without the other, in Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues Volume 7, Number 2, June 2004.

Atkinson. W.R. Barmah-Millewa: Some thoughts for future directions, in Park Watch, No 216, March 2004, pp17-20.

Atkinson, W.R. Submission to the Environmental Assessment Coucil on Yorta Yorta Connections with the River Red Gum Forests On Public Land in the Study Region, Victorian Environmental Assessment Council 6th Floor, 8 Nicholson St, East Melbourne 3002. Victoria, Australia, 13 June, 2005.

Atkinson, W.R. Indigenous Land Justice & Colonisation,  Lecture materials for course: Indigenous Rights: Land & Heritage, School of Social & Political Science, University of Melbourne, 2005.

Atkinson, W.R. Yorta Yorta Occupation & the Search for Common Ground, in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, Volume 117 Number 1, Special Issue on Barmah-Millewa Forest: Indigenous Heritage, Ecological Challenge, Editors: A.R. Ladson & G.C. Lacey, Royal Society, Melbourne, Victoria, 2006.

Atkinson, W.R. Balancing the Scales of Indigenous Land Justice in Victoria, 2006, in Land, Rights, Law: Issues of Native Title, Native Title Research Unit, AIATSIS, Canberra, Vol 3, No. 5. 2006.

Atkinson, W. R. Yorta Yorta & Guinness go hand in hand, in Tain, The Australian Irish News Network, Sep-Nov, 2006, pp.20-25.

Atkinson, W.R. Fine words but few deeds, in The Age, 10 April, 2006.

Atkinson. W.R. Constructing Indigenous Identity through Western Eyes, in Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues Volume 9, Issue 4, December 2006.

Atkinson, W.R, Searching the origins of Aboriginal Reserves through the lenses of Cummeragunja, Paper, presented at 5th Annual Conference on Settler Colonialism, National University of Ireland, Galway, 2007.

Atkinson, W.R. The relationship between Land Water & Yorta Yorta Occupation, Research Paper, Yorta  Yorta Native Title Claim, 1997.

Atkinson, W.R. Reflections on the Yorta Yorta Native Title Claim, 1994-2003, in A. Gunstone (ed.), History, Politics and Knowledge: Essays in Australian Indigenous Studies, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melburne,  2008.

Atkinson. W.R. Major Victory for Yorta Yorta at World Indigenous Peoples Summit, Japan 2008, in Koori Mail, August, 2008.

Atkinson, W.R.  Justice & Beauty in the Barmah Forest, Herald Sun, 1 September 2008.

Atkinson, W.R.  Ngarriarty: Speaking Strong for Country , in First Australians, Perkins, R., Langton, M., eds, Melbourne University Press, 2008.

Atkinson,W.R. The Cummera Walk Off & the Return to Base Camp Politics,  School of Social and Political Science, University of Melbourne, 2009.

Atkinson, W.R. The Dharnya Centre: A Case of Institutional Racism, in Park Watch, No 233, June, 2008.

Atkinson, W.R  Empowering Traditional Owners through Joint Managment of National Parks: What can be learned, from Kakadu & Mutawinji? pp. 19-28 of Research Project, University of Melburne, 2009.

Atkinson, W.R . The Need for a Cross-Border Barmah-Millewa National Park & Joint Management with the Yorta Yorta, Research Paper, pp.49-56, Research Project, University of Melbourne, 2009.

Atkinson, W.R. National Parks & Joint Managment, in Park Watch, Victorian National Parks Association, December, 2009.

Atkinson, W.R. Cultural Tourism & the Yorta Yorta Experience: A Case of Excusion or Inclusion, Research Paper, Yorta Yorta Nations Aboriginal Corporation, 2009.

Atkinson, W.R. National Parks & the Yorta Yorta Struggle for Land Justice: The Barmah-Millewa Case, Research Paper, University of Melbourne, 2009

Atkinson, W.R. National Parks & Joint Management: A better deal than Native Title? Research Paper, University of Melbourne, 2010.

Atkinson.W.R. Native Title & the 80/20 Equation, in Koori Mail, edition, 484, 8 September, 2010.

Atkinson.W.R. The Yorta Yorta Nation: Moving forward with a Vision for the Future, Yorta Yorta Nations Aboriginal Corporation, The Adviser Australia, Shepparton, No 1:1017, 27 October, 2010.

Atkinson, W.R. A Chronolgy of Yorta Yorta Struggle for Land Justice, 1860-2010: A prima facia case for prioritising Yorta Yorta Nations in the Governments Land Justice Agenda, Yorta Yorta Nations Aboriginal Corporation, 2010.

Atkinson,W.R. Media Representations & Indigenous Voices in the Barmah-Millewa Campaign , Research Paper on Barmah-Millewa Campaign, 2011.

Atkinson, W.R & Burchill, A. Conflict of Interest Matters in the Bolt Case, Background Paper on the Bolt Case, 2011.

Atkinson, W.R. An Overview of Indigenous Human Rights in Australia, National University of Ireland, Galway,  2012.

Atkinson, W.R. Native Title in Australia: The Yorta Yorta Case, Research Paper,  National University of Ireland, Galway, 2012.

Atkinson, W.R. The Failure of Native Title & Human Rights Options in  the Yorta Yorta Case,  Research Paper, School of Social and Political Science, University of Melbourne, 2013.

Atkinson, W.R. Rio Tinto Award for Teaching Excellence, 2013,  Media Release, University of Melbourne, 2013.

Atkinson, W.R. ‘The Task Force Story: Looking Back and Journeying Forward, 1975-1977‘: Recalling 40 years of Tertiary Education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’, David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education, Arts and Social Sciences University of South Australia, 2013.

Atkinson,W.R. Institutional Racism alive and well in the Barmah Forest: How white ants and white politics combined to undermine the Dharnya Centre, 2013.

Atkinson, W.R. Tracking the Origins of the Reserve System through the lens of Cummeragunja :  Paper presented to the  ’Ends of Ireland: Twentieth Australasian Conference for Irish Studies’, UNSW, 4-7 December, 2013.

Atkinson, W.R. Reflections of  the National Apology, 2014: Paper presented to Commemoration of the 6th Anniversary of the National Apology, Shepparton Regional Reconciliation Group, Queens Gardens, Shepparton, 13 February,2014.

Dr Wayne Atkinson-Yorta Yorta Senior Lecturer & Fellow
School of Social & Political Science,
University of Melbourne


4 Responses to Profile: Dr Wayne Atkinson-Yorta Yorta

  1. Maire O'Donoghue, Claretuam, Co. Galway says:

    Having met you thro’ unusual circumcsances last July and being literally. Bowled over by you and your wife Cassie and your interest in Indigenenus people and one of my sons in Oregan working with the Dept of environment, I was over come but still keen and hoping when you get to Galway summer2016 we can see a few sights. My beloved Tom died in Nov. Last and you and Cassis Would have ticked all his boxes for him but hopefully I will have our eldest son , also Tom when you get here, very interested in land wrights. Hopefully I too will have done a bit of reading on the subject.
    May your God go with you until we meet again. Com.

    Máire O’Donoghue, Claretuam, Tuam, Co. Galway irl. House no. 3539355959 353 872729299

    • waynera says:

      Hi Maire sorry have been busy with teaching and at this stage we wont be back in Galway this summer. Sorry to hear about the passing of your husband and best wishes for the new year. Hope to back in Galway in 2017 all going well. Cheers Wayne and Cath

  2. Dr Atkinson,
    I am writing a novella at the moment for an 8-10 year old audience and I want to have one of the main characters to be a boy from one of the Yorta Yorta clans. I am, however, very aware of how much I don’t know about the Yorta Yorta people and I do not wish to misrepresent the character.
    I am wondering, could we begin a brief email dialogue so that I can ask some questions, tell you what my thoughts are and get your impressions? I have some very specific goals with my writing and a broad ethnic diversity is key to many of them.
    Thank You
    Bob Cartledge

    • waynera says:

      Sorry Bob I am heading overseas for 4 moths and the best contact I can give you for your inquiry is to get in touch with the Yorta Yorta Nations Corporation which you can locate online and discuss your proposal with then Good luck with it Regards Wayne

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