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We mourn the loss of NJ Nangala and Colin Thiele, two people whose work has helped the maintenance of Indigenous languages.

Inspired Wandering has a post about the death of NJ Nangala, a talented speaker and language teacher at Ngukurr. Along with Mandawuy Yunupingu, she was the first speaker of a traditional language to graduate with a teaching degree from Deakin University. She was NAIDOC Aboriginal Scholar of the Year in 1987. She spoke at least Warlpiri, Warlmanpa and Warumungu. I learned much about Warumungu from her, and from her fresh and exuberant approach to language. Most of her language work energy went on Kriol - teaching, translating, and promoting the status of this new language. She is greatly missed.

And yesterday a death which did not crash websites, - the Australian children's book writer Colin Thiele - I remember him as a rather shy man dutifully speaking at the local public library, trying to create an interest in reading in us smart-assarse children. Many will know his children's novel Storm Boy (1963, Adelaide: Rigby) which had a sympathetic portrayal of an Aboriginal in the Coorong area of South Australia. David Gulpilil played this character in the film (1976) directed by Henri Safran. This book was translated into Warlpiri in 1987 by the Lajamanu Literacy Centre. My guess is that this and Nancy Sheppard's (1975) Pitjantjatjara Alitji Ngura Tjukurtjaraangka. Alitji in the Dreamtime (Adelaide: Department of Adult Education, University of Adelaide) are still the only biggish English children's books to be translated into an Indigenous language. (I'd be interested to learn of others - nothing else obvious emerges from Mary-Anne Gale's 1997 book Dhangum Djorra'wuy Dhäwu: a history of writing in Aboriginal languages. (Adelaide: Aboriginal Research Institute, University of South Australia).

The Coorong landscape also featured in another work Thiele was involved in - with the remarkable Ngarrindjeri woman, Leila Rankine - Land of the Ngarrindjeri ( Educational Production Services, Education Department, South Australia , 1978). It is a multimedia kit for secondary school children - one of the earliest of such kits.

Update: I've just learned that Storm Boy was never published in Warlpiri- the translation circulated in typescript/digital file, and was mined by linguists. SIL were going to publish it with the photos from the film, but one actor never got around to giving permission, so it was never published in a more durable form. Sigh.


"trying to create an interest in reading in us smart-ass children"


why smart-ass and not smart-arse? Are you code-switching, or have you borrowed ass? Or do you consider yourself a speaker of American English after having lived there? Very curious!

Second sigh. It looked wrong... but in my stupor I couldn't think why - confusion with 'jackass' perhaps!

NJ was amazing and we all still miss her very much here at Ngukurr.

Among her other achievements... she was an accredited English/Warumungu and English/Kriol interpreter, she was part of the National Indigenous Women's Leadership Group which is put together by the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination, she was also a very good artist, she helped organise the Marra language stream of the Ngukurr Language Program (her husband's language) and this year she started more study, doing a Diploma of Interpreting at Batchelor. More than that, she was a deadly woman and she never stopped believing in Aboriginal Languages and Cultures and never stopped trying to instill that passion in others. She's left behind a wonderful loving husband who misses her very much.

And everything we do here at Ngukurr Language Centre is a legacy of her passion.


Sorry - I know many people who get infuriated at being around linguists who comment on their use of language, which leaves the speaker feeling that their content has been ignored/dismissed...

Just a particular fascination I have with ass for some reason - and no I am not interested in Freudian analyses of why that is!

I heard a great archival interview with Colin Thiele on Radio National this morning. Absolutely incredible. Julie McCrossin on Life Matters. Have the tissues ready for when she reads some of his letters written to his wife while he's a soldier away at war.

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