Bundjalung Our Way

Here is a review of a good old-fashioned print book, crowd-sourced and locally published this year here in the Northern Rivers of NSW : here in Bundjalung jugun (jagun), Bundjalung country.


The book is titled “Our Way Stories” and it contains autobiographical accounts from ten Bundjalung elders. The publication was supported by Arts Northern Rivers, a regional arts organisation whose activities respect and promote the language and culture of the original owners of this area.

It is not a book specifically about language. Language, however, is a significant thread running through the stories. The elders talk about their language experience in childhood, their level of exposure to language and language competence. Their life stories make clear the mechanisms of language loss, and give powerful insight into the meaning of language heritage.  As elders describe their family, clan, geographic and language attachments, they make evident the reality that “Bundjalung” refers to a language cluster and not to a single language entity.

It is a beautifully produced book, with great photos including remarkable photographic portraits and precious photos from the past.It records remarkable lives with the emotional impact of eyewitness narrative.

Most relevant to this blog is the vivid personal recollections it contains of men and women whose aboriginal language remains an intrinsic aspect of their identity.

The book was launched at the 2016 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, and its forward is written by the acclaimed author Melissa Lukashenko (Steam Pigs, Mullumbimby) whose own great grandmother was removed from her Bundjalung family. She praises how “ the melody of the old lingo drops into these stories like stars appearing in the night sky”.

“Our Way Stories”draws the reader closer to the Bundjalung languages through the voices of those who are living the contemporary history of those languages.

Radio National progamme on “Our Way Stories”

The book is available by emailing the link on the “Our Way Stories” page at Arts Northern Rivers, accessed via the links in this article.

Gillian Smith, LING 366

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Language in Aboriginal suicide prevention

I came across an app in progress last year called ‘Kurdiji’. Kurdji is a Walpiri word meaning to shield, protect, or ward off. Kurdiji will be a suicide prevention app for Aboriginal people, and the story behind it is nothing short of amazing.

In 2005, in the remote community of Lajamanu, a young Aboriginal man took his own life. Local Walpiri Elders decided to take matters into their own hands, as they felt that the western suicide prevention model was not only ineffective, but that it didn’t meet the needs of young Aboriginal people who were suicidal. They created a program and activities for young people in their community that focussed on connection to land, culture, and language. They believed that if young Aboriginal people understood and embraced these aspects of Aboriginal life, that they would have a strong sense of identity and purpose in their life. There has not been a suicide in Lajamanu since the Elders have implemented these related teachings and activities.

The Black Dog Institute has partnered with Walpiri Elders to develop an app that will teach these same teachings. While it may not be as ideal as face to face, it will allow for young Aboriginal people to learn about language, culture and country, wherever they are living. Elders acknowledge the huge part that language plays in identity and overall wellbeing. I believe this is one way of preserving traditional Aboriginal languages.

Below is a link that further explains the Kurdiji app, as well as videos to gain a better understanding of what they are trying to achieve.


Fiona Livingstone, LING366

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The Last Leader of the Crocodile Isands

The Last Leader of the Crocodile Islands is a documentary about ‘Big boss’ the last surviving pre-colonial Indigenous Australian Elder from the Yan-Nhangu clan of the Yolgnu nation. ‘Big boss’ was the 2012 Senior Australian of the year and The Last Leader of the Crocodile Islands outlines the passion of Big Boss employing modern methods of translation and education to ensure that the language of Yan-Nhangu is part of todays culture. Yan-Nhangu language, like other Indigenous Australian languages had been eroded almost to extinction through Mission and Government policy since 1921. The documentary is fantastic in providing the context of the importance of language to Indigenous Australians and their link to ancestral lands. A fantastic documentary of a truly (as testified) virtuous women. Watch it at:


‘Big boss’ bio at :



Bill Sneath LING 366

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Indigenous Languages across Australia


This is the link to a map demonstrating Australia’s Indigenous languages including all the dialects, which leads to a number of approximately 600 different idioms.

It clearly shows which ones are located in which area. Moreover, this map makes it possible to listen to some of these dialects. The dots with a black “person” provide a clip in which the language is presented and translated within a short personal story. Since the map gives everyone the opportunity to get an idea of the sound of the individual languages, comparisons can be drawn to identify potential similarities and/or differences. In addition to this, it is possible to get a broader understanding of what the language component of culture means to Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders due to the personal narrations. For these reasons, this map is of particular interested to linguistics students.

Julia Kogelnik, LING 366

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Contracts in comic and pictorial form

Indigenous Australians, like all vulnerable persons, are highly disadvantaged by the complex nature of legal language – keeping in mind that legal language is itself a dialect of English.  This disadvantage extends to written language, and written contracts can be particularly complex.  [1]

I have attached a podcast entitled Contracts in Comic Form, [2] within which is discussed the new legal concept of legal contracts in comic and pictorial form.  This type of contract is highly likely to be held to be legally binding and will be of great value to vulnerable parties such as Indigenous Australians, and consequently reduce the differential in power that exists between contracting parties (particularly) when one of those parties is vulnerable.

It strikes me this is a field of inquiry that would be worthy of study for any linguist hoping to make an impact upon the substantive disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians with regard to the Australian legal system.

[1] An excellent example of complex legal language is the contract that was the
subject of
Karam v ANZ Banking Group Limited & Ors [2001] NSWSC 709. This contract
was examined in detail by Tanner (2000), who focused upon a single paragraph (‘the
sentence’) which consisted of a single sentence of 80 single spaced lines, 1688 words,
53 clauses, and 54 reduced clauses. The sentence contained the “word ‘or’ 153 times”
meaning the sentence could be written in 9.6 x 10^
35 different ways (Tanner 2000, p. 62).  In fact the sentence was so complex that ANZ’s own Counsel was unable to interpret

[2]  Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio National.  (2016). Comic Contracts. Retrieved 17 October 2016, from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lawreport/comic-contracts/7898330

[3] Tanner, Edwin. 2000. “The Comprehensibility of Legal Language: Is Plain English the
Griffith Law Review. 9 (1)

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Language maintenance and revitalisation

In topic 5 we discussed language loss, maintenance and revival.
I found this seminar by Leanne Hinton that was given at ANU about reclaiming indigenous languages in not just Australia, but also in America and New Zealand. Leanne works in California with Indigenous Americans and their languages and I found her talk very interesting. This is an hour long, but if you have the time I do recommend watching this!

Genevieve Stewart

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An early grammar of Tiwi

Early publication of this grammar of Tiwi has probably been of great benefit to Tiwi’s present day strength and vibrance. While other Aboriginal languages suffer for want of reference works, those with reference works stand a stronger chance of survival over these next 50 years of global language extinction. tmp_7135-162123296031183566899

Good luck (and good funding) to those involved in this work.

(S G Hughes LING366 Trimester 2 – 2016).

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Jingeri. There’s an app for that!


You arrive at camp only to find you there are elders from a far off group and you need an icebreaker. Your laptop takes too long to boot and you only have a few minutes to come up with a few words to help build bridges. What are you going to do?

There’s an app for that.

Yugambeh Museum just south of Brisbane have released an app, a kind of talking dictionary of seven Aboriginal languages with a few extras. While containing only brief notes on grammar, there’s a list section where categories of words can be seen and heard, such as “family members” “body parts” and various creatures. I saw Jessica Mauboy say in Jingeri “Hi” on a Youtube link. A nice fresh connection to an Australian language.

Such a quick access for anyone to hear and see unfamiliar pronunciations of common words is a real drawcard for this resource, and bodes well for the future for this kind of language learning technology. Having used the Duolingo app I can say that languages can become living in your home when one plays and imitates unique sound landscapes. A great place to start for the curious.

This is also a prompt to advocates of Aboriginal languages. Here is real linguistic opportunity to build grammar skills to wide number of groups with a highly accessible learning technology.

Dan Mitchell

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