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July 2010

Another grammar of an Australian language is to be launched: Amanda Lissarague's grammar and dictionary of Gathang (see 2008 blog-post on launch of other books published by the ever-productive Muurrbay and Many Rivers Language Centre).

gathang-launch-invite.jpg

I've just been devouring Andrew ('Yakajirri') Stojanovski's 2010 book Dog ear cafe: how the Mt Theo program beat the curse of petrol sniffing. Melbourne: Hybrid Publishers. It's a terrific read (you can download a sample from the publisher's webpage).

UPDATE: 2/9/2010:
This book is being launched "in conversation with Rachel Perkins" on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 6.00 for 6.30pm.
Venue: gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe
Cost: Free
RSVP: gleebooks - 9660 2333 or request a place via the gleebooks' secure server
Or you can buy it from gleebooks here.
]

As a portrait of life among the Warlpiri, it's up there with Yasmine Musharbash's Yuendumu everyday: contemporary life in remote Aboriginal Australia. She talks about Yuendumu from the point of view of an anthropologist living in the single women's camp; he does it as a community worker trying to balance his marriage with throwing himself into helping Warlpiri people work with petrol sniffers. (For other earlier excellent ethnographies see the list David Nash maintains.)

In its astonishing honesty about the author's feelings and actions (the good, the silly and the dangerous), Dog ear cafe is up there with the honesty of Neil Murray's autobiography, Sing for me, countryman (Rydalmere, N.S.W.: Sceptre 1993)* (and see my blogpost).

Here are some of the many things I liked about Stojanovski's book:

  • the reflections on the intercultural teamwork needed to create Mount Theo outstation as a place to allow petrol sniffers to regain their lives.
  • the recognition that intercultural misunderstanding works both ways - most notably in the incident where a young Warlpiri boy says in shock when criticised for upsetting Andrew: "Kardiya [white people] don't have feelings".
  • the suggestion that compassion is a defining Warlpiri characteristic (as exemplified by the ubiquity of the "poor thing" wiyarrpa) word in modern songs). At the same time he recognises that of course not all Warlpiri show it.
  • the discussion of humbug (demand sharing) as mutual obligation, as 'teamwork'.
  • the account of how to reconcile everyone's need and desire for vehicles with the need for an emergency vehicle at the outstation.
  • the discussion of how hard it is for Yapa (Warlpiri people) to reconcile the obligations of family life with the impartiality demanded of workers in most Australian organisations. (He argues that whitefellas are seen as neutral like Switzerland- I'd go for 'maybe more neutral' rather than 'neutral').
  • the importance and difficulty of having D&Ms (deep&meaningful conversations) with petrol sniffers, and the generous recognition that another of his associates, Karissa Preuss, is very very good at this - in fact the book is filled with the generous recognition of the skills of his associates. No wonder the team worked well.
  • the breathtaking exuberant desire to Get Things Done, save petrol sniffers from themselves. This led the Government to award OAMs to Stojanovski and his colleagues Japangardi and Peggy Nampijinpa Brown. It also led to all sorts of things that would have him hung, drawn and quartered by all but the most enlightened ethics committee and government agency. He knows this, but justifies it from the fairly unarguable position that the alternatives would have been more harmful. (Read the book to find out more...)
  • having a glossary at the back which contains many accurately spelled Warlpiri words


The book leaves me with a great deal of admiration for what Nampijinpa, Japangardi, Stojanovski and their associates achieved, a lot of sympathy for the women and the managers and Government people in Stojanovski's life, and above all with gratitude to him for telling the story his way.

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The final release of Wunderkammer Import Package 2 is now available for download. Check out the Wunderkammer website for more info.

Thanks to everyone who pointed out bugs and made suggestions for improvement. In this release several bugs have been squished and a bit of input validation and some friendlier error messages have been added.

Work now begins on version 2.1! Keep the bug reports and other comments coming.

[from Myfany Turpin, our person in the Northern Territory]

Last Sunday I was fortunate to attend the ‘2010 Ali Curung traditional Dance festival’ in the NT organised by the Arlpwe Art and Culture centre. It appeared that the whole community turned out for the show, and staff from DesArt and Winanjjikari Music Centre no doubt worked tirelessly to put on this great event.

I arrived for the second day where a group of about 6 men sang a ceremony described by Geoffrey Small as jarda malya-malya a Warlpiri ceremony that involved a Dreaming track from Yuendumu to Hatches Creek. Following this Fanny Purrurla led Jiparanpa Yawulyu, from Warlpiri country. Then Mona Haywood led the singing of Tyarre-tyarre awelye, joined by Nancy and Trixie. This is a women’s ceremony from the Kaytetye country called Tyarre-Tyarre (more commonly spelt in the Warlpiri orthography, Jarra-Jarra). All three ceremonies had some 20 dancers, both young and old.

In between the ceremonies were break-dancing competitions for children. It took me a moment to adjust to the contrast in music, but not for the children who seamlessly moved from dancing ceremony to break-dancing in ochre. The day also involved spear-throwing and ‘flour’ races.

An interesting feature was the women’s painting preparations that went on outside earlier that day. Instead of singing, a recording of the previous night’s singing (again Mona, Nancy and Trixie) made by one of her relatives, was played on a tape recorder to accompany the painting up. With around 30 dancers to paint up, and Mona being the main singer (and she’s no spring chicken) perhaps this was to give her voice a break before the afternoon’s performance.

The last time a similar event was held at Alekarenge was at the Arlpwe Art and Culture centre opening at 2008. Before then, perhaps not since the Land Claim hearing or Purlapa Wiri in the 1980s. Those who witnessed the ceremonies at these events may have been disappointed yesterday with the numbers of singers. However I think it's amazing that there is anyone who still knows and sings these ceremonies at all, considering some historical factors, briefly mentioned below.

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I've had a wonderful time over the last 5 years attending various HCSNet (Human Communication Sciences Network) summer schools and workshops. So it was sad to take part in the last WinterFest a couple of weeks ago at Bowral. I learned heaps from the courses (slides for most here) - I've listened to 2 tutorials on aspects of psycholinguistics and speech pathology (which made me even keener than ever not to get a stroke) and a fabulous presentation by Katherine Demuth on prosodic effects on child language acquisition, enjoyed one by David Hawking on how search engines work, given one on the syntaxes of Australian Aboriginal languages, and learned heaps from Myf Turpin on songs in Australia and from Andy Butcher on the phonetics of Australian languages.

Andy was describing how, while each general property of the phonologies of Australian sound systems can be found elsewhere (many places of articulation, no fricatives, no voicing contrast, no really high vowels), the whole package is perhaps unique. And he was speculating about functional pressures that might lead to the development of such systems - a reduction in the need to hear high and low frequencies would benefit people with hearing loss from middle ear infections. Great talk, great slides.

Andy very kindly gave me a copy, and boy am I hoping to use them (with suitable copyright acknowledgement of course!). it made me realise that what I really really would like is an open access powerpoint collection of slides that people were happy for others to use (with acknowledgement on the slides). It takes me FOREOVER to prepare powerpoints. And even so my layouts and diagrams are usually prettttttttty low-rent. Doing a handout is so much faster.

I am sorry that HCSNet's funding is finishing. It's been an excellent pilot answer to a major problem faced by researchers in Australia. That is, very often our home departments are too small to nurture a really productive research climate, while the university funding system has unfortunately promoted compartmentalisation, so that researchers rarely come into contact with people from other disciplines - lack of opportunity and lack of time. This has bad consequences for research training. In the Netherlands, a country with a similar population to Australia, and similar problems with small departments, a country-wide graduate summer school system has been institutionalised and financed by the Government for fields such as linguistics, in order to esnure that graduate students are exposed to a wide range of ideas. The HCSNet workshops and summer schools have acted as a successful pilot for such a system.

If you, like me, have benefited from the HCSNet workshops and summer schools, and want to see them continue, Chris Cassidy is collecting letters of support - go here for more information.

4 comments |

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