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Two great supporters of Australian Indigenous language work died recently. Dr R. Marika was widely known and well-respected for her passionate advocacy for Yolngu languages, and the importance of maintaining them and using them in schools. She was only 49. Short obituaries are on the web from ANTar, and The Australian.

J. Jampin Jones died yesterday. In 1998, as a middle-aged man, after many years of hard manual work, and in the midst of the grief and the havoc wrought by kidney failure on many of his family, he went to Batchelor College to learn to read and write Warumungu. An astonishing thing to do, and his charm, enthusiasm, and undauntedness gave hope and encouragement to other Warumungu students. Those of us studying Warumungu were helped immensely by his gift for explaining meanings, and by his belief that it was a good thing we were doing together.

We honour them both.

The kinds of forces that shortened their lives were, in part, the reason for the Intervention in the Northern Territory a year ago. The progress report a year later appears to be that:
--a lot of money has been spent, mostly on salaries, vehicles and houses for non-Aboriginal bureaucrats,
--in some communities things have improved for women and children,
--in some communities the anger at the racism of the intervention is itself a destructive force.
Here's Crikey's progress report, and here's Jack Waterford's opinion piece in the Canberra Times, and here's Nicolas Rothwell's piece from The Australian, and Will Owen's post.

The heads of the task force responsible for the implementation think that part of the solution is to shut down some Aboriginal communities. It is not reported what they think will happen to the displaced people, how they will rebuild their lives after the loss of their home country.

I thought of the likely consequences of forced location tonight, as I abandoned marking to watch the desperately sad documentary Treasures of the Silk Road: Kara Khoto: Citadel in the Sands on SBS [1]. Khara Khoto (Black City) was a fortress city built on an oasis of the Etzin Gol (the Black River/Ejine River) and inhabited by Mongols. In the fourteenth century it survived a long siege by the Chinese, but the inhabitants died, or were forced out, when the Chinese diverted the Etzin Gol. Without the water, the oasis dried up, the poplars died, and the whole area became dusty desert. In the 1930s Fritz Muehlenweg wrote Big Tiger and Christian, which centres on a charming, elegiac account of semi-nomadic pastoralist Torgut Mongols living in the oases of the poplar-fringed Etzin Gol (he'd been on Sven Hedin's expedition to the Gobi Desert). The wistfulness comes from the hints that their way of life is probably doomed by the encroachment of the Chinese.

In the documentary, the film makers show Khara Khoto. But they also show a few Torgut Mongols living on other dying oases of the Etzin Gol. The oases are dying because irrigators further up the Etzin Gol have done what their ancestors in the fourteenth century did - dam the river so that less than 10% of the flow reaches the oases.

And the solution? Relocate the Torguts from their pastoral way of life, move them from their round yurts off to walled and treeless barren settlements of houses. They don't want to go, because they know there will be nothing for them to do there.

Maybe that's what lies in wait for the people of the lower Murray.

Treasures of the Silk Road (2005-6):
(Director: Serge Tigneres; Publisher: Keith Mclennan, Haruki Kito, Takashi Inoue, Ataushi Ogaki, Marie-Pierre Aulas, Stephane Mill; Production Company: Gedeon Programmes, France 5, NHK, CC-TV; France)


The above description of "JJ" Jampin is spot on. He was one of the couple of dozen speakers of Warlmanpa too.

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.

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