Gunbalanya (also spelt Kunbarlanja, and historically referred to as Oenpelli) is an Aboriginal community in west Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. The main language spoken in the community is Kunwinjku. At the 2011 census, Gunbalanya had a population of 1,174.
The area now known as Gunbalanya was originally called "Uwunbarlany" by Erre-speaking people who were its original inhabitants. Oenpelli was the way Paddy Cahill (1863–1923), the founder of the original cattle station in the area, pronounced the local word. The present toponym is an anglisation of the word Kunbarlanja current in Kunwinjku, the language of the people who now live there, who began moving into the area from the east following the Cahill's establishment of his cattle station there in 1909.
The sealed Arnhem Highway links Darwin to Jabiru, the town within Kakadu National Park. About four kilometres before Jabiru, the sealed road turns off to Ubirr, the Border Store, Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River and Oenpelli. The road is dirt from the East Alligator to just before Gunbalanya, a distance of about 16 kilometres. While this road is generally navigable by four wheel drive vehicle, the river crossing is a causeway which is closed by flooding during the wet season (November to April) and at high tides.
Dry season travellers are able to drive the 300 km from Darwin in about three hours and 60 km from Jabiru in under an hour. Northern Land Council permits are required to cross the East Alligator River, the western boundary of Arnhem Land, and travel east to Gunbalanya.
Oenpelli Airport is a sealed all weather airstrip located in Gunbalanya, and a number of companies offer charter flights to and from this airport.
The local radio station is called "RIBS" for Remote Indigenous Broadcasting Service.
Injalak Hill, with many rock art galleries, is Gunbalanya's main tourist attraction
Permits for road travel into Arnhem Land can be organised at the Northern Land Council offices in Darwin or Jabiru and may take up to two weeks to finalise. Many visitors prefer to see Arnhem Land through an organised tour operation.
The Stone Country Festival (formerly Gunbalanya Cultural Open Day) is usually held in August and access for this is allowed without permit. Though an annual event, it is sometimes not able to be organised in a given year.
Western Arnhem Land is home to some of the most significant rock art in the world. It has arguably the world's longest continuing artistic traditions - with rock art dating back thousands of years and still being produced today.
Local artistic traditions are continued and adapted by the Injalak Arts Centre. Injalak Arts is named after nearby Injalak Hill, which has many rock art galleries and is the main tourist attraction in Gunbalanya.
In the 1960's the mission at Oenpelli encouraged traditional rock painting artists to paint on bark. These painted barks were sold to anthropologists and travellers. This soon became a cottage industry and several important aboriginal artists including Lofty Bardayal, Mick Kubarrku and Dick Murramurra transferred their rock art skills to bark. These bark paintings are now held in Australian and overseas art galleries. Exhibitions of Bark paintings include Old Masters at the National museum of Australia and Crossing Country at the Art gallery of New South Wales.
Oenpelli, as it was known then, was established by the Rev Alfred Dyer as a mission in 1925 by the Church of England's Church Missionary Society, on the former cattle station.
Dyer and his wife Mary established a typical mission station, with church, school, dispensary, garden and store, to which they added pastoral work with feral cattle and horses. Among those who attended the mission school was the celebrated Gagudju elder and interpreter of culture, Bill Neidjie.
Oenpelli remained a mission until 1975, when responsibility was transferred to an aboriginal town council and the name was changed to Gunbalanya.