Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Yolngu economy was based exclusively on hunting and gathering until the establishment of the missions and the gradual introduction of market goods. Hunting and gathering remain important for Yolngu both in terms of subsistence (especially at the homeland centers) and of identity, even though motor vehicles, aluminum boats with outboard engines, guns, and other introduced objects have replaced indigenous tools. Small amounts of cash were introduced in the 1940s and 1950s; in 1969 federal training grants began to provide Limited wages, and social service benefits were generally being paid. Standard wages were in place by the mid-1970s, but Social services remain the major source of cash income for Yolngu and unemployment (in European-Australian terms) remains at over 50 percent. Most employment is provided by government agencies in administrative and service jobs. Yolngu on the Gove Peninsula have established business enterprises mainly related to contract work for the mining company.
Industrial Arts. For a few men and women in each Yolngu town or outstation the production of arts and crafts—bark paintings, carvings (chiefly but not exclusively made by men), woven net bags and baskets (exclusively produced by women) —is a significant source of income, but it is not nearly sufficient to preclude the need for social-security support.
Trade. Yolngu traditionally had trading partners who Exchanged scarce commodities such as highly prized stone, ochres, and other objects of ritual value; trading relationships were important both socially and economically, and the network of trade, although attenuated, remains.
Division of Labor. In the past, women regularly gathered and processed vegetable foods as well as provided substantial amounts of protein (shellfish at coastal sites, small animals such as goannas and snakes at inland sites), while men provided less regularly taken but highly prized large animals (turtles, dugongs, and fish at coastal sites, and kangaroos, wallabies, emus, opossums, bandicoots, and echidnas at inland sites). This division of labor still exists, although women as well as men now line fish and men continue to use the spear and spear thrower for fishing. The division of labor in wage and salary jobs tends to follow the Euro-Australian pattern.
Land Tenure. Land is owned by language-named dans; the parcels comprising a clan's estate may not all be contiguous, and ideally they include both coastal and inland areas. Individuals inherit ownership rights in the clan estate from their father and responsibilities for and use rights in their mother's estate. They may also have subsidiary rights in an area where they were conceived (where their father found their spirit before it entered their mother) and also where they were born. In addition, individuals have interests in and responsibilities for their mother's mother's estate, including the potential right of inheritance should there be no males in their mother's mother's clan. Federal legislation in 1976 Formally recognized Yolngu title along with the Aboriginal title of all Aboriginal reserve lands.