When searching for an Aboriginal language of the region where I come from, I came across the Muurrabay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative, funded by the Australian Government. Their website can be found here:

The organization believes in the importance of indigenous languages for the maintenance of Aboriginal culture and heritage. They focus on the Gubaynggirr language and culture and have set up a weekly language oral practice as well as developing teaching materials. If you click on the links you can find information about some different Aboriginal languages.

As I didn’t grow up in Australia I never learned anything about Aboriginal languages in school and almost no one I know seems to care at all. Therefore I thought it was interesting to find some information about the local language, which I have written about below.

Gathang – a language from the NSW Coast

Gathang is spoken by the Birrbay, Wirrimay and Guringay people. Their territories spanned from the Wilson River, near Port Macquarie all the way south to Port Stephens and westward to Gloucester. They had close relationships to surrounding peoples.

Gathang is a Pama-Nyungan language and has many cognates and structural similarities with the language from the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie. It also has many cognates with Gumbaynggirr and Dhanggati.

Today many are involved in the revitalisation of Gathang in artworks, speeches, the radio and naming things, as well as teaching children, as seen in the link attached below.

Gathang has three vowels (i, a and u) and the long version of each as well as 13 consonants, with the voiced counterparts being used for spelling. It has a system of noun suffixing for roles like subject, object and agent, instrument, location etc. Verbs have three tenses, past, present-habitual and future. There are other suffixes conveying meanings similar to auxiliary verbs in English. The default word order is ‘agent – object- verb’ but there is free word movement.

There are few historical records of Gathang of low quality. The earliest word list was published in 1887, a description and another word list in 1900. More work was done and in the 1960s recordings were made. A grammar and dictionary was compiled by Amanda Lissarrague in 2010 which will serve as a reference for the production of teaching and learning materials.


Minyang nyura wuba-li-yn?

what       you.all do-ing-PRES

What are you doing? (A common way of greeting is to ask a question.)


Nyura      yii-gu      mara-la      barray-gu.

you.all here-to come-have country-to.

You have come here, to this country.


(Yii barraba barray.)

this my       country

This is my country.


Yii Gathang-guba barray.

this Gathang-‘s country

This is Gathang country.


Gathay nyiirun.

go-will we.all

Let us go together.



By Nora Salter



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This unit has certainly opened my eyes to my lack of knowledge of Aboriginal affairs and language, and a similar lack of knowledge in the non- Aboriginal community. I don’t know that this ignorance is studied or intentional or whether it’s plain old-fashioned apathy. I have gained a lot but like all students I realise I have a lot more to learn. I hope that my increased interest adds something to my community’s knowledge. I have talked to people from the local Aboriginal group, I have looked into local aboriginal history and I have discussed with local teachers about their attitudes to the subject and have received immense support. I have to say that when I approached the local library I can’t say I was surprised to find only four document relating to Aboriginal languages and two of those did not relate to the local languages, one, only indirectly, related as a section of a book and the last was a book produced by the local primary school. That book;

Tathra Public School. (2014). Dhurga and Thaua Aboriginal Languages, Pambula, Excell Printing,

is an interesting introduction to local Aboriginal words used by the two groups represented locally as sub-groups of the Yuin people. It is interesting in that unlike similar earlier wordlists it gives a pronunciation guide. The second book is;

Wafer, J. and Lissarrage, A. (2008). A Handbook of Aboriginal languages of NSW and the ACT. Sydney. Brudelin Maclean Publishing Services (for the Muurbay Aboriginal and Cultural Group).

It is a scholarly exercise in accounting for the state of the languages of NSW and the ACT. In my opinion it is a depressing litany of dead and dying languages of which the non-Aboriginal community should be utterly ashamed. The sooner Aboriginal languages are given official status, enshrined in the constitution, the better. It would at least afford them recognition as valid means of communication and generate appropriate government support

Malcolm Privett.

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The Miriwoong language

As others have noted, The Guardian newspaper has been running an series on Aboriginal languages. One article concerns the Miriwoong (MiriWung) language of the eastern Kimberley, a non Pama-Nyungan language undergoing revitalisation in the face of competition from Kriol and English. The author, Glennis Galbat-Newry, writes about the recent history including relocation to Kununurra in the 1960s. She compares the importance of indigenous language preservation to studies in indigenous communities in Canada and New Zealand where retaining an indigenous language leads to fewer community problems such as rates of youth suicide – a particular problem in her region of the Kimberley.

An expanded article by the same author Newry (2002) elaborates on language features including grammar, related languages and interviews with language scholars, including with a UNE graduate (Kofod, 2002) who has co-authored a paper (Leonard, Parsons, Olawsky & Kofod, 2013) exploring the use of the language in understanding the effects of climate change.

Further information about the language is available on the Mirima website including details of an iPhone app.

Newry, G. (2002). Mirima Dawang Wooriab-Gerring language and culture centre. Ngoonjook, (21), 26-49.
Kofod, F. (1978). The Mirwung language (East Kimberley) : a phonological and morphological study. Thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Arts, University of New England.
Leonard, S., Parsons, M., Olawsky, K., & Kofod, F. (2013). The role of culture and traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation: Insights from East Kimberley, Australia. Global Environmental Change, 23623-632. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.02.012

Peter Cox LING566

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Indigenous Hip Hop

Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (IHHP) is a program designed to promote and preserve indigenous culture by producing music videos starring children from Aboriginal communities. By giving indigenous children a voice, it allows them to take pride in their heritage with the goal of positive change within their communities.

The following video gives expression to young men from the Yolgnu community in their own language:

Other videos (often in English) may have a more serious tone in addressing important social issues such as the importance of staying in school, tackling domestic abuse and nutrition through preferring water over sugary drinks. These songs and choreography are scripted by the children themselves and provide them with an opportunity for young people to feel empowered in delivering positive messages to a wider audience.

(N.B. A neighbour of mine helps shoot the videos!)

Peter Cox LING566

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Oral versus written transmission of knowledge.

It is hypothesised that the tools we use to transmit information radically influence the way “we process, organize, store, and transmit representations of the world”, [1]  indeed, there is a current body of thought that speculates that the members of our species underwent a fundamental neuropsychological change when we shifted from oral transmission of knowledge to written transmission of knowledge, and that we have now begun a similar evolutionary shift as western society begins the transition from written transmission to the widespread use of computers for the storage and transmission of information.

Certainly, it stands to reason that such shifts in information storage and transmission would serve as an evolutionary driver (in part) owing to differences in memory allocation and use.  However, one is inclined to think that 200 odd years is a short time in evolutionary terms and that this could be part of the reason Indigenous Australians can struggle in a western cultural frame.

Taken in isolation, one is inclined to conclude that there is no salvaging traditional cultures which have, until recent times, exclusively transmitted knowledge orally.    That being said there are a growing number of people and groups making use of technology to store and transmit traditional languages, increasingly in song form [2]  – the logic being this is similar to the transmission of information by means of songlines.

Assuming the accuracy of the evolutionary hypothesis and also of the Whorfian hypothesis, it stands to reason that new technologies will be far more effective than traditional written methods in preserving indigenous cultures and languages, being closer in form to the way information is transmitted in indigenous societies.


[1] Sherry Turkle ‘How Computers Change the Way We Think’ (2004) 50(21) The Chronical of Higher Education B26.

[2] ABC RN ‘Singing indigenous language back to life’ on The Drawing Room (18 June 2015) <;

William Murray

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Aboriginal Languages in Education

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 9.16.20 PM.pngAs a primary educator, the topic of Aboriginal language in education was extremely interesting to me. Having being trained to teach using a Curriculum that incorporates Aboriginal perspectives and languages, the gesture is far from enough based on what the unit has shed light on.

Indigenous students have a cultural background far different to those of other students. They have a history that far outlives any other Australian. The requirement of the Australian Curriculum to deliver English education and meet language outcomes based on an English language is one that hinders the cultural history of Aboriginal people.

With only around 250 Indigenous languages still present in Australia, it is vital that these are not lost through further suppression of native tongue. Providing children with the opportunity to develop an understanding of the native Australian language, as well as develop their ability to speak is just one measure being taken to revive a dying tongue.


Wadu Matyidi – Language of Belonging
is an interactive site that is designed for primary students to use, which explores and develops the Aboriginal language, but also provides an overall context of cultural understanding – imperative to the survival of Indigenous Australia.

Schools are presented with the challenge of incorporating the language of Australia, with the English language, which with limited time constraints is hard. The interactive and vast learning options of the Wadu Matyidi site means that teachers are able to incorporate the language learning into their classrooms, without the need for extensive, expensive resources, and an engaging learning mode for students.

Utilising other resources, such as those featured on the site, along with dictionaries and the involvement of Indigenous community members this resource is extremely useful for educators to help revive the Aboriginal language with all students within schools, whilst still meeting syllabus outcomes.

-Tamsin Quirk, LING366

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National Anthem


In topic 9 we looked Aboriginals languages in schools. This is a primary school where the whole school was taught to sing the National Anthem in what is listed as Sydney Aboriginal Language. I just thought it was a really cool way to incorporate Aboriginal Languages into education. They know the tune already and then the music will also help them remember the words, and it becomes a whole school and extremely inclusive activity.

Alexis Matthews

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