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It was sad and moving to read in the Tennant and District Times (Vol.33 No. 26 23 July 2010 p.8), of the tribute concert for the Alekarenge/Ali Curung singer and songmaker, B. Murphy of Band Nomadic, who recently died in Adelaide. Too young. Their most recent album Freedom Road [1] has been shortlisted for the 2010 Indigenous Music Awards. Too late.

The songs on the web are in English and Warlpiri, but apparently Murphy wrote in Kaytetye and Alyawarr as well. You can hear Freedom Road, Stolen Generations, Mungamunga (I think this is Munga Munda, i.e. Mangkamarnda, old Phillip Creek Mission), Kurdu, In and out of prison, Love will never die, and Jiparunpa on the Freedom Road album site here. You can hear Kurdu, Drink-Drive and Freedom Road on the Winanjjikari podcast site here. On Band Nomadic's MySpace page are Munga Munda (with Warlpiri lyrics), and LarnirliLu Parngka Jarlngk (about first contact - spelling is haywire, but it is wonderful that so much Warlpiri language could survive the onslaught of more than fifty years of monolingual English education at Ali Curung school).

In an interview, Murphy says he started the band with a couple of blokes he met in gaol. 'Freedom road' makes most painfully clear the ricochet between gaol and freedom, between exile and homeland, between family and grog, between doing right and going wrong, between fleeting delight and the bleak assurance that you will lose everything that matters. The only 'baby' in these songs is 'run baby run/they're comin to get you baby' in the 'Stolen Generations 'song. The last song on the website of Freedom Road, Jiparunpa (Jiparanpa) is a fusion of Murphy's modern vocals with women singing traditional songs (cf Myf's post), probably linked to the remote place Jiparanpa. Jiparanpa is the traditional country of some Warlpiri living at Ali Curung. It's too far to get to, and has become the homeland of dreams, of imagination, of the golden past and the unattainable future; it's the end of the freedom road.

Travel safely, travel lightly, wiyarrpa.


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.


[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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Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
22 June 2010

The Aboriginal Languages Network is a team of teachers and Aboriginal language and culture experts in Port Augusta, South Australia, and is working on language revitalisation and materials development for threatened languages spoken in northern South Australia. Mohamed Azkour at Augusta Park Primary School in Port Augusta, has developed a website of Aboriginal language materials for Adnyamathanha, Arabana and Pitjantjatjara, all spoken in Port Augusta and points north. The materials presented were developed by him and Greg Wilson of the South Australian Department of Education and Children's Services (DECS) with input from local teachers and community members.

The online materials include:

  • background information on each of the three languages
  • teacher resources that can be downloaded and printed
  • interactive games and quizzes
  • equipment and dozens of resources available locally for teacher use, including CD-ROMS, DVDs, videos, books, posters and other materials

The website is particularly useful for Arabana, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Adnyamathanha language programs, but will be of interest to others wanting to explore language learning materials and outcomes. I personally found the website design with its heavy use of Adobe Flash 10 and many animated headings a bit off-putting, but I expect children will find it encapsulates an engaging and fun approach to learning.

Peter K. Austin
Linguistics Department, SOAS
8 June 2010

As I reported in this recent blog post, at least one family in South Australia is still speaking the Dieri (Diyari) Aboriginal language. During our discussions last week I took down a genealogy for seven generations of the family, and noticed something interesting about the names given to children of each generation.

The first generation for which I have information were children born around 1880 (such as Frieda Merrick, born in 1885). Many Dieri at that time were associated with Killalpaninna mission run by German Lutheran missionaries. The English language names given to children of this generation have Biblical and Germanic sources, eg. Frieda, Gottlieb, Timotheus, Katerina, Selma, Alfred and Walter.

Children of the next generation, born around 1900, typically have 'Anglo' names that were also common among the non-Aboriginal population at the time, eg. Ben, Ernest, Shirley, Myra, George, Martha, Albert, Suzie. This practice continued for the next three generations, born in the 1920s to 1960s, who had names like Arthur, Rosa, Eileen, Nora, Robert, Joan, Jeffrey, Reg and Ian. By the 1970s other names (also used among the wider population) make an appearance, such as Donica, Trevan, Kyle, Liam, Kristen, Brenton and Michele.

A change seems to have happened in the last 10 years for children born around 2000 and later. The names given to them are all 'unusual' in not being 'typically Anglo' but rather based on African-American names, especially those of popular black singers and rap artists (with a number of girl's names ending in -esha). Additionally, names of the current youngest generation are spelled in many unusual ways, with lots of unexpected consonant clusters, and even the use of punctuation in the case of De'Ron. The following are the names I collected:

Iesha Jaima Jaran
Jenola Kaiha Kanolan
Katasha Kyrahn Lailani
Lamiah Latesha Mikayla
Nikkiesha Quandelia Quanesha
Quintella Ronice Shareena
Shekogan Shonesha Sianne
Talesha Trayton Trevan
Tyrelle Vaniah Virion
Zander Zysdonehia

Colleagues living in New South Wales have noticed a similar phenomenon and reported the presence of highly distinctive and unusually spelled names among young Aboriginal children there too. There is clearly a distinctive naming system evolving for some Aboriginal groups, a system with its own dynamics though influenced by exposure to popular US black music culture.

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Thanks to Margaret Florey on the RNLD list, I was led to the webpage of the Aboriginal Languages Research and Resource Centre (The Languages Centre) of NSW. It has a fair bit of useful information.

Money for one - they're offering grants for work on NSW languages - $5,000 per project for smaller projects and $25,000 for larger projects. Applications for the larger grants close on 11 June 2010..

And they're going to have "a state-wide Aboriginal languages forum"

And they have useful information - like the existence of language programs in gaols.

Australia Day, ah. Sizzling like a sausage, I read Junga Yimi (true stories), the Warlpiri magazine started in 1978, and restarted in 1994. This issue is a wonderful words-and-pictures round-up of what's been happening at Yuendumu - in Warlpiri and English, translations by Ormay Gallagher, and lay-out and editing by Donovan Jampijinpa Rice.

There's news of the very young (Kurdu Kurdu Kurlangu childcare centre), of old (Mampu Maninja-kurlangu Jarlu Patu-ku old people's program), of people generally - the winners of the Alice Pest Control Tidy House competition (Serena Shannon, newsletter editor Donovan Rice and their family), and the Little Sisters of Jesus. Of work - more Warlpiri are working at the Tanami Gold Mine, news of the Warlukurlangu Artists and of the Yuendumu Mining Company (including the current prices for native plant seeds - $680 for a full drum of Wardarrka (Acacia ligulata)). Lots of news of school-age children and young adults, from what Jaru Pirrjirdi (Strong voices/words/language..) and Mount Theo are up to - ranging from swimming carnivals, homework centre, life guard training, night club and youth programs - to what's happening at the school - classes, culture nights and country visits.

There's news from the Warlpiri branch of PAW Media - the Yapa Beats compilation CD, a radio program Yapa patu wangkami, (oral history docco in Warlpiri and English about life at Yuendumu before settlement, during the settling and during the NT Emergency Response aka the Intervention). And finally ...football! Flying South when the Yuendumu Magpies AFL team travelled to Melbourne to play at the MCG against the Anangu All Stars from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands and Maralinga Tjarutja Lands. [I can't resist mention here of a favourite recent successful ARC grant -- Mark Dras, Myfany Turpin et al.s' project Natural Language Generation for Aboriginal Languages - they hope to "generate a simplified version of reports on AFL matches" - in Indigenous languages....]

Junga yimi gives a lively picture of life at Yuendumu (check out also Yasmine Musharbash's equally lively ethnography Yuendumu everyday). Good things are happening, people are doing good things.

But, very sadly, this issue starts with an obituary (by Lizzie Ross Napurrurla) for J. Nungarrayi Egan, a passionate advocate and worker for Warlpiri people and Warlpiri language. Nungarrayi was there at the start of the bilingual education program, and worked there most of her life before retiring to help set up Jaru Pirrjirdi for young adults. She fought for the continuation of bilingual education, up until the end when she wrote a letter [quoted here] to Marion Scrymgour, protesting the "First four hours of English" decision. She could foresee what the decision would mean for Warlpiri children, Warlpiri communities and Warlpiri language. It dooms much of her life's work.

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Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre


Key position available in one of Australia’s leading language centres. This is a great opportunity to work in a vibrant and complex linguistic and cultural environment. Be part of a passionate, hard-working team. We are looking for an experienced, motivated linguist who can engage with the community and effectively manage the centre’s language projects. Highly developed linguistic analysis and staff management skills essential.

This is a full-time position based in Port Hedland.

The salary includes a $10 000pa housing allowance and attractive salary sacrifice options.

Applicants should address the selection criteria and attach a copy of a current resume and two referees to The Manager, WMPALC, PO Box 2736, South Hedland WA 6722 or manager AT wangkamaya.org.au by close of business Monday 7 December 2009.

For further information or a copy of the job description and selection criteria phone Nadine Hicks 08 9172 2344.

The Pilbara region of Western Australia provides a challenging and stimulating environment in which to carry out linguistic work. It contains 30 plus languages at varying levels of endangerment, some with over 100 competent speakers, and some with only a handful. Wangka Maya’s base in Port Hedland allows access to the many surrounding remote indigenous communities.

We are engaged in a wide range of interesting community projects, such as mobile phone dictionaries, multimedia language resources, grammars and interactive online dictionaries. We are also engaged in supporting other community and grass-roots organisations in their own language ventures. This is your chance to be part of the crucial work of language documentation, revitalisation and promotion. As Senior Linguist you will have the opportunity to manage a team of linguists and language workers, and to plan and direct the language work of the centre. You will be responsible for the high quality and appropriateness of all products. We welcome your ideas in all these areas.

Port Hedland is the economic centre of the Pilbara, therefore job opportunities for partners are readily available.

*Please pass on to your networks and pin up on relevant noticeboards*


We sold out of the first printing quick as a flash with just local orders, so now we have re-printed and we have plenty to meet international demand (ha!) if the need should arise.

The book is simple and aimed mainly at parents or schools who wish to teach young people how to count to 20 in Anindilyakwa, however it is a vibrant and charming book that will open up to newcomers some of the delightful features of the language. For instance, the range of noun classes, and the mathematical precision of language structures.

Besides provoking the reader to deep thoughts about counting, the reader will enjoy being put in touch with the bush foods of the Groote Eylandt area through the many photos.

The book gained instant notoriety when the first printing arrived, coming almost to the day at the same time as the southern newspapers were heralding some research done with children on Groote Eylandt,
research which "demonstrated" that in languages where there were no words for counting more than one, two, and many, children still had a concept of counting in greater quantities.

Pity they picked on Groote Eylandt, where people do have words for numbers up to twenty. Children would have watched as women traditionally divided out collected turtle eggs into groups. True, a five year old may not have been taught to count yet, but on the days royalty money comes around they watch as the adults divide out their share, and numbers have an important function in daily life.

There are 54 pages, card cover, full colour, lots of photos, some word glossaries in the back, and even a few puzzles to test out what you can learn from your reading.
Cost: $25.00 each plus freight.

Available from Groote Eylandt Linguistics, Angurugu Community Mail
Agency, Angurugu via Darwin, Northern Territory, 0822
Email: linguistics AT activ8.net.au
Phone: 08 8987 6614 or 08 8927 1842
Mobile: 0439 827 073



11 Sep

Yuwali in front of Yimiri.jpg

Last night I saw a fascinating documentary about a group of Mardu people’s first contact with Europeans. As Australia entered the space race the group of about twenty women and children found themselves literally in the firing line. In 1964 a rocket, the Blue Streak, was about to be launched from Woomera in South Australia. The “dump zone” for the rocket was the area of the Percival Lakes in the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia. A pair of patrol officers was dispatched to the area to make sure that the region was uninhabited. Of course it wasn’t. Pretty soon they found recent fires and human tracks.

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Professor James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, has given his preliminary impressions of the situation in Australia - see today's Crikey. Most media attention is focussing on his comments about the Northern Territory Emergency Response,

...affirmative measures by the Government to address the extreme disadvantage faced by indigenous peoples and issues of safety for children and women are not only justified, but they are in fact required under Australia’s international human rights obligations. However, any such measure must be devised and carried out with due regard of the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination and to be free from racial discrimination and indignity.
In this connection, any special measure that infringes on the basic rights of indigenous peoples must be narrowly tailored, proportional, and necessary to achieve the legitimate objectives being pursued. In my view, the Northern Territory Emergency Response is not.

But also important are his comments that any partnership between Government and Indigenous people must be one that is


Good news! There's interest at federal ministerial level in a National Indigenous Languages Policy for Australia. [thanks Ngapartji and Sarah!]

Apparently the person to contact is John Prior (Electorate Officer for Senator Trish Crossin, Northern Territory). He is researching a National Indigenous Languages Policy for Minister Garrett's office. He welcomes comment as well as pointers to resources and references. He is unsure of the timeframe of this stage of development, so it is suggested that you contact him as soon as you are able:

John Prior
John.Prior AT aph.gov.au
Electorate Officer
Office of Senator Trish Crossin
PO Box 946
Palmerston 0831
Ph: (08) 89310830
Fax: (08) 89310513
Mob 0409 671 892

The Australian Research Council have funded a project 2009 - 2012 Strategies for preserving and sustaining Australian Aboriginal song and dance in the modern world: the Ngarluma community of Roebourne, WA.

The researchers are Sally Treloyn (CDU); Allan Marett; Andrew Dowding, Ngarluma Aboriginal Corporation

Project Summary
This project makes a major contribution to the community in which it is based by developing an appropriate and efficient model for cultural maintenance and regeneration through repatriation, recording, documentation, and digital dissemination. National benefit derives from the development of a model to preserve and sustain endangered cultural knowledges associated with song and dance, and a pre‑emptive strategy for the recovery of almost extinct traditions. National benefit also derives from establishing Australia at the forefront of international efforts to safeguard intangible cultural heritages, by revealing how access to recordings via digital platforms contributes to cultural maintenance and regeneration.

from David Nathan,
HRELP, Endangered Languages Archive, SOAS

Gayarragi, winangali, a new Gamilaraay/Yuwaalaraay language resource, is now available. Click on the picture to download.

Download Gayarragi, winangali

Gayarragi, winangali is an interactive multimedia resource for the Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay languages of northern New South Wales, Australia. It is aimed at language learners at all levels, and anyone interested in these languages. It contains extensive language material, including audio. The main features are:


A couple of weeks ago I watched "Samson and Delilah" at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station along with maybe 1700 other people, black and white, on the grass or swags and a few on camp chairs. It was a spectacular place for a premiere, the screen set up against red cliffs and white gums.

Several reviews have come out, by David Stratton, and by Julie Rigg on the ABC.

It's a bleak fairytale that's beautifully filmed and staged - the light at different times of day and in different places, the shadows when Samson is dancing, the strangeness of living under a bridge in the Todd River.


[Thanks to Myf Turpin for passing this information on]

In many cultures birds indicate ecological events and can be harbingers of bad news through their role in mythology. Birds can signal where water can be found, the presence of game or other food, seasonal events or danger. This series of posters features birds that are indicators in four endangered Central Australian Aboriginal languages: Arrernte, Anmatyerr, Alyawarr and Kaytetye.

Each poster includes a color photograph of the bird, its Aboriginal, scientific and common name, as well as information about what it signifies, with an English translation. The posters are the result of collaborative work with Aboriginal language speakers, linguists and ornithologists. They are produced by the Cultural Signs Project, Charles Darwin University.

They can be viewed here:

And can be purchased online from the Charles Darwin University Bookshop for $13.95

In the chaos of starting first semester, three excellent events have passed unnoticed in this blog (but not in my thoughts): Tony Woodbury's Master class and workshop on speech play and verbal art T (February 13 2009) at ANU, National symposium on assessing English as a second/other language in the Australian context (20-21 February 2009) at UNSW, and the State Round of OzCLO, the High School Computational and Linguistic Olympiads at the University of Sydney (starring Wemba-Wemba, Pitjantjatjara and a brilliant problem on Japanese braille).

What must be passed on, however, is this message from the Reverend Dr Djiniyini Gondarra. Longterm readers of the blog will remember his appalled and very moving reaction to the heavyhandedness of the Intervention in the Northern Territory in 2007. Things have not improved.

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Today's Honours list [.pdf] gives Indigenous Australians something to celebrate - Mick Dodson as Australian of the Year and the award of a Companion of the Order of Australia to Faith Bandler.

And for Indigenous languages, there are two awards of Members in the General Division of the Order of Australia to celebrate:
1. the late Dr R. Marika, "For service to Indigenous communities in rural and remote areas as an educator, linguist and scholar, through the preservation of Indigenous languages and the promotion of reconciliation and cross-cultural understanding"

2. the Reverend Dr Bill Edwards, who has worked for over 50 years with Pitjantjatjara people, learning the language, helping with documentation, with schooling, who pioneered the teaching of Indigenous languages at university, and who still helps out as an interpreter in hospitals and gaols.

Both awards come in the shadow of a government decision which goes against what both Bill and Dr Marika have fought for. Bill has protested about the NT Government's decision to close bilingual education in a letter to the Australian.

Dr Marika died before the decision was made. But in her 1998 Wentworth Lecture [.rtf], we can see what she would have said about the destruction of her hopes for two-way education.


Re-awakening languages: Theory & practice in the revitalisation of Australia’s Indigenous languages

Proposals are invited for an edited volume that will include contributions from a broad range of authors involved in the revitalisation of Australian languages. If you, your colleagues or your students are participants in Indigenous languages revitalisation anywhere in Australia you are strongly encouraged to contribute.

The book will be independently edited by a panel consisting of John Hobson (University of Sydney), Kevin Lowe (NSW Board of Studies), Susan Poetsch (NSW Board of Studies) and Michael Walsh (University of Sydney) and be published by Sydney University Press (SUP). It is intended that the final product will be a significant Australian resource comparable to Hinton & Hale (eds.) (2001) The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice.


Today on ABC Radio National there were two broadcasts of interest to TLC readers:

Lingua Franca had Patrick McConvell talking about the need for a National Indigenous Languages policy, (MP3 here, transcript here). It's a clear summary of the perilous state of Australian Indigenous languages and of the way present government policy is imperilling them further. He reinforces the points made by Inge Kral and David Wilkins that the best evidence on how children learn goes against the NT Government's move to dismantle bilingual education. Relevant to this are the material and links on the Ngapartji Ngapartji website.

And Life & Times rebroadcast a documentary, On the Shore of a Strange Land - the Story of David Unaipon, a Ngarrindjeri/Yaraldi man who recorded his people's stories and aspects of their daily lives. It was originally aired on Hindsight. MP3 here. A remarkable man. The documentary includes reminiscences by people who knew him

Some of Unaipon's work was published in pamphlets in his life, but the bulk was ripped off by William Ramsay Smith and published under Ramsay Smith's name. Unaipon's manuscript has since been edited and published: Legendary tales of the Australian aborigines , edited by Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker (Carlton, Vic. : Miegunyah Press at Melbourne University Press, 2001)
For further information:

Richard Trudgen of the Aboriginal Resource Development Service Inc (ARDS, working with Yolngu people of north-eastern Arnhem Land) has an interesting discussion paper on the Federal Intervention in the Northern Territory.

It's called 'Are We Heading in the Right Direction? "Closing the Gap” or “Making it Bigger”?[.pdf] [Thanks Greg for pointing it out!] He gave the paper [1] just before the NT Minister for Education, Marion Scrymgour, announced the plan to make all schools teach in English for the first four hours every day (see posts by Inge Kral and Felicity Meakins), but much of what he says is directly relevant to that policy.

One of his basic arguments is that in places like Arnhem Land much of the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in areas such as education, health, etc stems from a failure of communication. Yolngu often don't understand what non-Indigenous people are telling them, and vice versa. But the consequences are much worse for the Yolngu who, so Trudgen says, are living in nightmarish confusion. Bureaucrats/teachers/police etc. are irritated by communication breakdown, but it doesn't affect their day-to-day lives so much.

The Minister's response to this breakdown is to tell Indigenous people "Learn English". That's what Governor George Gawler told the Indigenous inhabitants of Adelaide in 1840. Trudgen's response is to tell the non-Indigenous people who go to work in Arnhem Land "Learn Yolngu Matha" [or the relevant local language].

"All teachers, police officers, health personnel, administrators, miners, and contractors entering Aboriginal lands, should attempt to learn the language of the people, as does the Australian Army before sending soldiers into East Timor, Afghanistan and other non-English speaking places". [2]

Learning a language is difficult, hard work and takes time, so that it is unlikely that many non-Indigenous people will adopt Trudgen's approach. The Minister's approach,has behind it a kind of realism (for access to information the Yolngu must learn English), and above all the weight of the mass media (predominantly English-speaking) and the concerned but ill-informed opinionati (such as Helen Hughes). Unfortunately they mostly fail to recognise that the same reasons why the average Darwin journalist/NT teacher/bureaucrat doesn't bother learning Indigenous languages (difficult, hard work and takes time) apply to Indigenous people.


[from Felicity Meakins, 2009 ARC recipient]

The bad news about Australian languages continues with the announcement by the NT Minister for Education and Training, Marion Scrymgour of a NT schools restructure which will place the emphasis on English and will essentially wind back two-way education.
“... I’m ... announcing today that the first four hours of education in all Northern Territory schools will be conducted in English,” Ms Scrymgour said.
"Ms Scrymgour said she recognised the requirement for all schools to teach all classes in English for the first four hours of each day would be contentious. I support preserving our Indigenous languages and culture – but our Indigenous children need to be given the best possible chance to learn English.”

This announcement follows the results from her Department's 2004-2005 Indigenous Languages and Culture in Northern Territory Schools [.pdf] report which showed positive outcomes for children taught in the two-way model.

How does it help children who don't understand English, to spend the first 4 hours of every day listening to English? Most NT schools are already English-only schools, and there's no sign that it improves children's written English more than in bilingual schools - indeed the evidence from Scrymgour's own department report is that the outcomes are marginally better in bilingual schools.

Consultation this year for the Regional Learning Partnerships between communities and schools also showed that most communities wanted language taught in the school either through two-way learning or an ILC (Indigenous Languages and Culture) program.

But it's not about research, results or education even, it is all about ideology as usual.

How about having a look at the 2004-2005 report, and the press release by the Minister for Education, and if you feel moved to send her informed agreement or disagreement, e-mail her at Marion.Scrymgour AT nt.gov.au.


Indigenous voices of the language to come together in the International Year of Languages

Federation of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Languages (FATSIL)
2008 Annual General Meeting & Indigenous Languages Forum

Theme 2008: Same kinship, different languages

Place: Watermark Hotel, Gold Coast, Queensland

Dates: 29th and 30th October 2008

Deadline for proposals: 29th September
Contact: Sone McKendry, sone AT fatsil.org.au,
fax 03-9602-4770

More information here [.pdf].

This arrived in the e-mail - and would be a great opportunity for an Indigenous researcher interested in languages to work with the fabulous audio-visual collection at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra, or to engage with the Government on language policy.


The inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Award (Non-Fiction) has been won by Philip Jones for his book Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and encounters on Australian frontiers (Wakefield Press, 2007).

[ Update 6/10/08 And the book has now also won the Chief Minister's NT History Book award against some fine competitors, including the author and Anna Kenny (Muslim cameleers), Darrell Lewis (Murranji track), Alec Kruger's autobiography, and Amanda Nettlebeck and Robert Foster on murderous Constable Wilshire].

The book is a pleasurable mingling of history and reconstructed ethnographic fragments, presented as a series of stories about encounters between Aborigines and non-Aborigines from 1788 to the early twentieth century. Each chapter is a reflection on an artefact in the collection of the South Australian Museum. These are the stories that are shrunk into a single line caption in a museum display. The stories are about the people involved - the maker, the collector, their friends, associates and relations - bringing in the history of the artefact and the wider context in which it was collected, and what this may say about the relations between Aborigines and non-Aborigines.


Among the people invited to share ideas at the 2020 Summit on visions for Australia's future are several speakers of traditional Indigenous Languages, Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan, Raymattja Marika and Thomas Jangala Rice. Apart from them, as far as I can see, linguists haven't got a look in. Our ideas aren't part of the vision for Australia. Sigh, so what's new?

Australia's language capacity has declined. This includes the capacity to speak the languages of our neighbours, the loss of Australia's Indigenous language heritage, and the fact that Indigenous children in remote communities are not learning Standard English. Changes in policy are needed to rebuild our ability as a country to learn and use languages. It'd be great if the summit considered this as something to push for.

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In 1838 Governor George Gawler gave a speech to the local Aborigines in the Adelaide area, which was translated into their language, Kaurna, by William Wyatt.

Black men--
We wish to make you happy. But you cannot be happy unless you imitate good white men. Build huts, wear clothes, work and be useful.
Above all things you cannot be happy unless you love GOD who made heaven and earth and men and all things.
Love white men. Love other tribes of black men. Do not quarrel together. Tell other tribes to love white men, and to build good huts and wear clothes. Learn to speak English.

Two hundred years later, the descendants of Gawler's audience are re-learning their language using the materials left by missionaries in new ways (see Jangari's post on this). Gawler's successors in Government are still wanting to make Aborigines happy by urging them to learn English, and more particularly to read and write English. Sometimes they translate this call into Indigenous languages.

Inge Kral gave a great seminar not so long ago on Ngaanyatjarra literacy, and the importance of 'administrative literacy'. She also blogged here about the foolishness of closing down local Indigenous TV in remote areas if you want to encourage literacy. Well, she has a piece in the Courier Mail (11/03/08) on literacy in remote communities where the first language is often not English. She makes the point that:

Much of the present discussion is based upon the assumption the only valuable literacy is English literacy. There is no acknowledgement of the importance of the bilingual/bicultural learning environment and the important role local indigenous staff employed on award pay and conditions can play as teachers and language workers in bilingual and non-bilingual programs.


[from Frank Baarda, long-term worker and resident in Yuendumu, Northern Territory]

If only it were only about the money.

Sociologists and anthropologists have written volumes about the effect of large injections of funds into small communities. Knitting a social fabric is a delicate, gradual and sequential activity that has to come mainly from within (outside authorities can however help to create the setting in which such knitting can flourish - or alternatively stuff things up). Here at Yuendumu you start with re-empowerment and relevance. No amount of money will instantly solve all our perceived problems.

The false perception has been created of all Aboriginal communities as being dysfunctional communities with rampant drunkenness, drug abuse, paedophilia, pornography, chronic health and education problems and a serious housing shortage.

I'm not saying improvements can't or shouldn't be made, just that infra-structure shouldn't take precedence over social-structure. A house is not a home. Did you know that back in the 1960's (or was it 1950's?) when Ted Egan was the Superintendent at Yuendumu he turned back a few semi-trailers laden with Demountable houses?... ( a mini-intervention!).

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13 Feb


and hear it here.


The deserts of Australia are filling up with pest animals, camels, donkeys, horses. Like a plague of giant rabbits, the camels are eating out the mulga, the bean trees and trashing the waterholes. Here's Susan(na) Nakamarra's Nelson's painting of her country, Ngapakunypa, north-west of Tennant Creek.

Susan Nakamarra Nelson, "Wild animals", Julalikari Arts [1], Tennant Creek 2007.
Picture in private collection.

These days, wildernesses can't stay pristine without some help - stopping the advance of cane toads, starlings, feral weeds, European carp..., managing fires, monitoring threatened species. It's really about occupying the country. Deserts need people.

And people need money. No one in Australia today can survive outside the money economy - if they don't have a job or are not on welfare, then they'll rely on family members who do, or beg or steal. So, how to get money is a large problem for Indigenous people living in remote areas like the deserts of Central Australia and the tropical scrub of Arnhem Land and the Kimberly.

One potential source of jobs is in the Indigenous ranger programmes. Potentially, these could involve remote communities with younger people doing the physical work, and older people passing on their knowledge of the natural history of the area (Traditional/Indigenous Ecological Knowledge). Involving local communities who have a longterm relationship with the country concerned is a lot cheaper than bringing in outsiders, training them up, and helping them adjust to life out bush. Life in remote communities is becoming more environmentally friendly as solar technology is cutting down on the use of diesel generators.

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[ Update: 16/12/07 The Australian Press Council has upheld a limited right to privacy for children, and ruled that "The Australian" should not have published the name of a girl who got pregnant and had an abortion when she was twelve (Adjudication 1375). Since that's the case, this ruling should apply to the names in the web version of the stories about her and the two other children (whose names I think should also not have been given, although the APC adjudication is silent about them). "The Australian"'s response to the ruling (via Nick Cater 13/12/07)) does not say what they will do to correct the problem that the names are now widely available on the web. On 13/12/07 I e-mailed "The Australian" and Nick Cater (who represented the newspaper at the hearing) asking for them to remove the names of the three under-age children from the web versions of all the articles, the editorials and Simon Kearney's response, as well as any photographs, and to ask Google to remove the earlier versions of the stories from the Google cache [which means that surfers would only get the later version without the identifications]. Only by doing that will the children's right to privacy be maintained. As of today (16/12/07), "The Australian" has not responded, and still has not removed the names of the children from the web versions of the stories. ]

If your 12 year old daughter was pregnant, and the person who caused it was charged, she couldn't be identified in a newspaper. But if no one was charged, then watch out! The Australian and the relevant Minister, Mal Brough, think it's fine to publish her name and photograph. Worldwide, on the web, and in her home town.

And if your community council chief executive says he doesn't see a problem with it, nor does The Australian.

One small caveat - someone has to give permission. But how do you get permission when the mother doesn't want to talk? Ask her aunt. And, just by the by, they can ask her permission in fluent standard English - so what if she speaks Pintupi and her English isn't very good. No need to ask if she needs an interpreter because hey a family member will do.

Linguists have written for yonks about gratuitious concurrence - when 'yes' doesn't mean 'yes I agree', but rather 'yes I am listening' or 'yes I am being polite'. Ethics committees have also agonised over informed consent. I've tried for many years to explain informed consent to Indigenous people I work with, in several languages, and I know I often don't do a good job. It's hard, it could get in the way of getting a great story, and so journalists might be tempted to take 'yes' as informed consent. That's why we need laws to protect children.

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Women for Wik. Monitoring the Federal Action in the Northern Territory
[This website has a lot of useful links to stories on the interventions - media releases, community voices including from Yuendumu on how to solve the housing crisis by bulldozing an Aboriginal shelter with a house for a bureaucrat, and from the Arts coordinators on the problems with abolishing CDEP]

Adelaide Public Forum, Monitoring the Federal Government Action in the Northern Territory
Part of Cultural Heritage, Social Justice and Ethical Globalisation - A World Archaeological Congress Symposium

This discussion panel gives people in South Australia an opportunity to learn directly from the Northern Territory Aboriginal women who are affected by the intervention.

Symposium Dates: 28th & 29th September 2007

Opening: 9.00am, 28th September, including Kaurna dancers

Public Forum: 11am-12.30pm, Friday, 28th September, 2007

Venue: Hetzel Lecture Theatre, Institute Building. State Library of SA, North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia.

Convener: Claire Smith, President, World Archaeological Congress, Dept of Archaeology, Flinders University

Speakers: Northern Territory Aboriginal women, Rachel Willika, Eileen Cummings, Olga Havnen, and Raelene Rosas.

Women for Wik Statement
The Federal Action in the Northern Territory could provide a unique opportunity to improve conditions in Aboriginal communities, but there is also a real possibility that it may make things worse. As currently planned, it will undermine key aspects of Aboriginal societies - country, kin and culture. Moreover, by using a top-down approach, it has the potential to work against self-government and, in some instances, contravene human rights. This will not improve the lives of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

Accordingly, we call on both Federal and Territory governments to recognise the importance of Indigenous identity and develop an environment of mutual respect through cross-cultural awareness, communication and engagement. Like the many Australians who walked the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of reconciliation, we believe our generation can ensure a fair go for Indigenous citizens.


TS and I've been e-musing about the Intervention. Here's something we agree on (and see below for where we disagree..)

PETITION [Feel free to distribute, modify etc.]
We call on the Australian Government to postpone the winding up of Community Development Employment Programs in the NT for the following reasons:

1. It jeopardises many organisations such as Language Centres and Arts Centres which provide community services and on-the-job training, and are gradually developing enterprises, as well as jeopardising small-scale tourism ventures which have been started in some communities.
2. There is no adequate safety-net in place. Most of the contracted Job Networks are clearly unable to provide, manage or supervise fair, efficient or effective access to substitutes such as the STEP training program or even Work for the Dole in the remote communities.
3. The abolition of meaningful work will have a devastating effect on the morale and social functioning of many remote communities, causing an increase in the kinds of social problems that led to the intervention in the first place.

We suggest that the entire project - its aims, methodology, strategy and structure – requires immediate independent review.


All honour to Frances Killaly who made a complaint to the Australian Press Council about the use of pictures of random Aboriginal children in the Canberra Times and the Sydney Morning Herald to illustrate stories about abuse of children in Indigenous Australian communities. (The story was reported in the rival The Australian).

Dishonour to all the newspapers, (including The Australian) which continue to illustrate stories (mostly negative) with pictures of random Aboriginal kids as 'emotional wallpaper' (evoking the 'gag-me-with-a-spoon' reaction that Will Owen had to the Australian's doggerel ad).

And absolutely totally completely all dishonour to their self-regulatory body, the Australian Press Council which found there was no case.

Adjudication No. 1369 (adjudicated September 2007)
"In dismissing complaints over the use of pictures of Aboriginal children in reports on the Prime Minister's plan to address matters of child abuse in Northern territory communities, the Australian Press Council reaffirms that newspapers and magazines have a duty to inform the public of important issues and have the right to illustrate these issues with photographs. However, they need to take special care when those images deal with children in circumstances where a false inference can be drawn.....While acknowledging Ms Killaly's genuine concerns the Council does not believe the publication of the pictures indicated the children had been abused."

So what if the photographs aren't of children who have anything to do with the problem? In a story about sex abuse??????

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Thanks to Daryn McKenny (and check out the Arwarbukarl Indigenous Language and Information Technology Blog that he's involved in) for alerting us to the online voting for the Deadlys - national awards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music, sport, entertainment and community achievement. Voting closes in a couple of days - 21st September.

A couple of names familiar to people working with Indigenous languages - Greg McKellar is up for "Outstanding Achievement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Education" - he's been working at Bourke on Indigenous language programs for many years now.

And Gary Williams is up for "Broadcaster of the Year" - he's chairperson of the Goori Broadcasters Association of Nambucca Heads - and he's also a longtime and tireless worker on Indigenous language programs via the Many Rivers Language Centre.

Cast your vote online... Only one vote accepted per machine...


Bagarap (1) how not to read census numbers

Uncertain future for town's new arrivals
Simon Kearney, Yuendumu | August 27, 2007

LIFE will be a lottery for the 25 children born this year in the remote Northern Territory Aboriginal community of Yuendumu.

Based on last year's census, it is likely that only two of these children will finish Year 12 and five of them will grow up without any command of the English language.

What Kearney must have done is take the percentage of all Yuendumu inhabitants who don't speak English, and base his 5/25 figure on that. Conveniently forgetting that most of the non-English speaking Warlpiri are old people. Kids learn English at school.

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... doom other people to repeat it. In this case, the other people are Aborigines.

Govt hails passage of NT indigenous laws, August 17, 2007 - 12:39PM, The Age

"A historic day for Aboriginal people", according to the Government. Indeed, and this is what Bob Brown wants us to remember it for:

Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania—Leader of the Australian Greens) (7.50 pm) Hansard 16/8/07
... We know from experience right around the world —from the Gaelic experience to the experience of people in the Americas — that the loss of language brings great anguish and depression, which visits people for centuries afterwards. Yet this government seems to have put that aside in the move — which must be very clear about here — to say to Indigenous people, ‘Take up the predominant culture or else.’ [...]. I want that on the record, so that no-one reading about this moment in history 10, 50, 100 or 500 years from now can say, ‘If only they had known what they were doing to Indigenous culture in Australia.’ We all know. The government has made its choice. It has the bulldozer; it has the numbers, and we do not. But let nobody in this place say that it did not know what this would do to Indigenous culture, custom, law, language, pride and wellbeing into the future of this nation.

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Update: "unjustified, racist and obscene:" see end for explanation
Update 2 I missed the 140 extra DEWR people to manage the CDEP changes, and a few others.. up to 725 thanks Bob!

The National Emergency Response is about job creation - 350 new Centrelink workers and 150 new FACSIA staff. Just 66 additional police. Fewer than one per targeted community. That eats up most of the $500 million. No money for the housing shortfall, sexual abuse counsellors, new classrooms.....

The Senate votes on Tuesday 14 August on whether to pass the NT National Emergency Legislation. If you want them to delay or modify it, write to your senators now. Individually, or GetUp has a campaign.

Heaps more material has appeared on the site of the Senate Inquiry into the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 & Related Bills

- 80 or so extra submissions since when I looked. I checked every 10th - all opposed.
- extra material tabled
- the transcript of Friday's hearing
- answers to questions asked by committee members

[Update: you can now download the Senate Inquiry report which includes the transcript. Further comments on the report at the end:]


(Guest post from David Nash)

The snowclone title I owe to Mark Liberman's LanguageLog post.

I've continued to track which communities are being targetted by the "Howard/Brough plan" (last update on 22 July).  Last Tuesday we learnt which communities will get a 5-year lease to the Commonwealth.  These are set out in the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 and its Schedules, wherein s.2(1) specifies commencement dates of the leases.

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The wind dropped in Canberra this morning - just as well for the small demonstration following the La Perouse community's Aboriginal flag up the hill to Parliament House. A mixture of the Green Left, the young, and many grey and white-haired people with long experience in Indigenous communities. The main message was - tell Australians that the NT National Emergency Response legislation won't stop child abuse, that it may make matters worse, not better. Far too many Australians believe that the proposed legislation is Doing Something About Child Abuse. They don't know that it may well be Doing Something Bad About Child Abuse.

When I got back, I found an e-mail from GetUp! who are running a campaign for signatures to delay or modify or vote against the bills - before this Tuesday (14th August) when the Senate votes on it.

Did you know that receiving an e-mail publicising a demonstration could be illegal on public computers in most Aboriginal communities in the NT once the legislation is passed? (And as for porn - if their spam filter doesn't work, they're stuffed). Sloppy drafting.

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For a clear account of problems with the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Legislation, a list of possible unintended bad consequences, and some solutions to some of the problems, go to the Submission of the Human Rights And Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) to today's public hearing on the legislation by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee.

Here are just a few of the possible bad consequences they note:

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I don't want to think about the legislation the Government rammed through yesterday- Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007, No. 2007(Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) A Bill for an Act to respond to the Northern Territory’s national emergency, and for related purposes. I don't want to think about the Opposition supporting this bill.

Many Indigenous people have sought asylum in the remote communities - freedom from alcohol, racism and demeaning treatment. But now the government is taking control of Aboriginal communities, and taking away the right of Aboriginal people on those communities to determine what they eat, who comes into their community, how they spend their money, who runs their stores, who manages their community, what buildings are built on their land. And a Government rep can attend any meeting held by an Aboriginal organisation. Rather like a mental hospital really, except that there's no independent overseer of the Government-imposed managers. From asylum to asylum.

No government should have such power over its citizens.

You can find the bill through the Parliament House website. And the Parliamentary Library has provided a digest [.pdf].


A small glimmer of good news amidst the increasing storm clouds of concern about how the loss of the Community Development Employment Program will make some Indigenous Australian communities unliveable and unviable.

For the first time, an Aboriginal person who was removed from his family as a child has successfully sued a state government for compensation. In the South Australian Supreme Court, Justice Thomas Gray ordered the South Australian Government to pay Bruce Trevorrow $525,000 'for injuries, loses and false imprisonment".

In an earlier Stolen Generation case, the pain that Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner endured in telling their stories led nowhere for them. Let's hope the South Australian Government doesn't tarnish Trevorrow's victory by appealing it.


[From our man on the Tiber, Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

So reads the headline of a three page article in the Friday 27th July 2007 Il Venerdi supplement of La Repubblica, the most widely distributed national daily newspaper in Italy (La Repubblica has an excellent website [fixed broken link, JHS]; however the supplements are print only and not available on the internet). The headline and subhead read:

"L'Australia dichara guerra agli aborigeni. Sulla base di accuse che sembrano costruite (violenza sui bambini, alcolismo) il governo manda militari << ispettori >> nei territori sacri dei nativi. Dietro ci sono le promissime elezioni, E le miniere di uranio."

which I translate as:

"Australia declares war on the Aborigines. Based on accusations that seem made up (violence against children, alcoholism) the government sent troops 'inspectors' into the sacred lands of the natives. Behind this are the next elections. And the mining of uranium."

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[Guest post from Bob Gosford, who has written on NT topics for Crikey]

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey yesterday announced the imminent demise of the Commonwealth's Community Development Employment Programme (CDEP) in the Northern Territory.

As of 30 September this year, CDEP in the NT will be dead.

According to Brough, it's all about the cash and the kids.

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I was going to take a break from whinging, but then today the changes to Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) in the Northern Territory were revealed - further Q&As at FACSIA [.pdf]. I can't say I've fully taken in the changes. But it looks like no one is spared; people in all Northern Territory remote communities will go off CDEP.

The changes to CDEP in the Northern Territory are a key part of the broader emergency response to protect children, make communities safer and normalise services for Indigenous communities.

The only link to protecting children seems to be that if everyone's on welfare and not CDEP, this will make it easier to introduce food stamps and welfare deductions as a way of making parents send their kids to school and making people clean up their yards.

While it's good to see that the Government is at last thinking about transitions from CDEP (unlike the poor people in communities such as Jigalong which lost CDEP on July 1), it also presumably means the loss of the extra Federal funding that has been put into CDEP businesses and community operations.

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Guest post from Inge Kral

The recent closure of the Indigenous Community TV network (ICTV), (see Frank Rijavec's letter) is a move of profound short-sightedness by individuals who do not understand how significant this media broadcasting outlet has been for thousands of Indigenous Australians living in remote Australia. At a time when we need to be encouraging a diverse range of strategies to support literacy in remote Australia it is beyond belief that the government would shut down one of the most significant vehicles for literacy development and maintenance (both in English and local Aboriginal vernaculars) for school-age and post-school age remote Indigenous youth.

The Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities (BRACS) media training in remote communities has represented one of the most successful models of 'Vocational Education and Training' (VET) in the remote context because of its immediate applicability. Additionally media production in remote communities in the various media organisations has been an important vehicle for Indigenous languages maintenance. In addition to the encouragement of language and literacy maintenance and development, cultural pride has been strengthened and vocational pathways have been forged. These media organisations have also supported successful and meaningful CDEP and non CDEP employment.

Digital media successfully engages remote youth in learning new skills including IT skills, and it was through ICTV remote youth then viewed their own digital media productions within a short period of time in the public domain. This immediate link between video production and broadcasting then engendered respect for young media workers from within their communities and from outside their community. Sadly the closure of ICTV has eliminated a strategy for purposeful literacy (and IT skills) acquisition and use for this age group. This decision must be reassessed; in addition to a National Indigenous TV network we also need ICTV in remote Indigenous Australia.


"So I think there may be a misconception that we're here to fix things. We're not. We're here to examine as many kids as we can in two weeks and to send the figures back to Canberra, and also to give the figures to the local health service."
[volunteer doctor, stationed in Titjikala, south of Alice Springs for two weeks as part of the Government's response.]

It's now a month since the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, stood together to announce that There is A National Emergency of sexual abuse on Aboriginal communities, And the Government Will Send Out The Gunships.

We have a right to expect that if the Government sends out the gunships, there is good reason to. There is. We also have a right to expect that when the problems are longstanding there should be a good plan with longterm solutions. The last month has shown that there isn't.

The gunships were sent off with only a mud-map, under the command of a taskforce which has no member professionally trained to work with sexual abuse victims. Without advice from Indigenous doctors or people who know about Indigenous health interventions, sex abuse or Indigenous children. Without paying attention to the advice of Pat Anderson and Rex Wild, the authors of the report that triggered the announcement. ('Gunships' and 'swarms of locusts' are Wild's metaphors). And with no idea of how much the operation would cost.

It's bright shiny lip-gloss to call the present disastrous state of many Indigenous communities a National Emergency - because emergencies are things you don't expect, and you can be forgiven for not foreseeing them. The problems in Australian Indigenous communities have been laid out in report after report after report over the last 10 years. Many people have shown the need for long-term solutions, and many communities have trialled solutions, some successful, some not.

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[ Forwarded from Günter Minnerup, UNSW]

The Sami experience will be the subject of a conference taking place at the Centre for European Studies at UNSW, Sydney, 19-22 July 2007. Among the speakers will be many leading activists of the Sami movement, Sami academics, and researchers on Sami history and culture, covering topics as diverse as Sami music, literature, history, local and regional case studies, political activism and representation, involvement in the global Indigenous movement, legal status, and much more. There will also be Australian speakers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to compare and contrast the Sami experience with that of Aboriginal Australia.

For a (provisional) list of speakers and papers, see the conference overview.

[Jenny Green is a linguist who has worked for many years in Central Australia. She's currently studying sand talk.]
It seems that it is much easier to post something on a blog rather than write a coherent letter to any paper and make new points about ‘the situation’. In an agitated state of mind I have been agonising about what to say for the last week, and I have not yet completed my 500 words. Several thoughts and images do come to mind though. In the past week I have been out and about in what will probably count as affected areas – if not yet declared as such then maybe soon. I was of course interested to hear what Aboriginal people who I have known for a long time make of the situation, and where they are getting their information from.

A colleague and I were returning from a very pleasant day spent in a dry river bed eating bar-b-qued chops and recording songs and stories with a group of Aboriginal women. On the way back we filled the back of the troopie with the remains of a recently slaughtered bullock -– head, feet and a few parts of as yet un-named (to us linguists at least!) guts that we all enjoyed talking about on the way home. This was food for dogs, and part of the practice of a culture that does not usually discard the useful remnants of animals. As we arrived we heard the latest broadcast on ‘the national emergency’ blaring from a radio in a community house, including the list of persons on Howard’s task force. It was one of those juxtapositions of realities that often strikes you when you are out bush. Aboriginal people make the best of their lives, often in very difficult circumstances.

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(1) Details of changes to 7,000 people's wages
On 1 July seven thousand Australian Indigenous participants in Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) are set to lose their wages. A few will have the CDEP positions converted into real jobs. But most will not.

There's a worrying lack of detail as to how the Federal Government proposes to manage the transition and the immediate problems caused by lack of money in communities in which CDEP may be the main income. This is highlighted in the Social Justice 2006 report by Tom Calma, the Social Justice Commissioner. The report which was sent to the Attorney-General on 5 April 2007 contains an alarming indictment of the Federal Government and the Federal bureaucracy's general ability to manage Indigenous affairs. It seems to have got buried in the publicity surrounding Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred”.

Backtracking, in Western Australia, police in Broome have already blamed changes in CDEP payments for drawing people into towns from the communities.

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Concern has been expressed about the re-posting of the Randalls' statement about Mutitjulu which was sent to me for circulation. So I've removed it. You can read it here at Crikey, and it is commented on in The Age. See also this article in the Brisbane Times, in which Donald Fraser, a community member, is quoted:

"We look up to the Government to help us.Now the Government has become a camel, and kicked us out."


Last time John Howard's ship came in, it was a Norwegian freighter, as Max Gillies observed. Today's Crikey has a Special edition: Howard's Aboriginal emergency, which suggests that this time, he's running the Aboriginal flag up the masthead.

Ten years ago when Howard came to power, his new Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Senator John Herron, said that his predecessors had got it all wrong. He wanted Aboriginal 'self-empowerment and said that the Howard government would adopt 'practical, commonsense policies' on health, housing, education, employment and improve Aboriginal people's lives.

That didn't happen.

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A link here [thanks to Simon Musgrave!] to international linguistic opinion on Mal Brough's and John Howard's poorly informed English-only push. Here's Geoff Pullum at Language Log today, Punishing speakers of Aboriginal languages:

Plenty could be done to improve the lot of aborigines in Australia without doing anything to insist on their learning English (which is probably going to happen anyway, along with the extinction of the aboriginal languages). Australia has a lot to atone for. Such atonement will probably not occur.

The Australian Greens are better informed than the Government about the language loss that's happening:

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[From Peter K. Austin, Endangered Languages Academic Programme, SOAS]

Lots of opportunities to come up against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues in London these days:

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Next week, on 7 June in Canberra, will be an event Languages in crisis, at the National Press Club. It's billed as a "National Languages Summit, calling for simple, effective measures to utilise and develop our national language capacity". It's organised by the Academy of Humanities, and they're going to launch a Research Paper.

BUT, the rumour is that "national language capacity=foreign language capacity". Nothing about the crisis in bilingual education for Indigenous students. Nothing about Indigenous languages at all....

Update 17/8/07
There's a new link here [thanks to Mame du Bois]

This does bring in Indigenous languages, recognising the misguided conflict between them that some policy-makers have pushed:

Programmes to support Indigenous languages of Australia can be paired with English teaching, rather than act in competition with them.


National Sorry Day, the fortieth anniversary since the Referendum, and here's the Government's response. Today the Prime Minister implied that "the right to live on remote communal land and to speak an indigenous language" keeps Indigenous people poor. But there is no causal relation between speaking an Indigenous language and living in poverty. In country towns across Australia many Indigenous people live on welfare and speak English.

And on Saturday, Sorry Day, I read that the Govenment is offering the 70 traditional owners of Ngapa (Water) country on Muckaty Station (NT) about $60,000 a year for the next two hundred years to experiment with storing nuclear waste on their land. Or alternatively, $171,000 today to each Ngapa clan member. That's before tax, lawyers and accountants' fees and administrative costs. And traditional owners (all family) of neighbouring country have said that they don't want the future value of their land decreased by nearness to a nuclear dump.

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Summer brings out stories about humour in the media. A right wing commentator complained that Australian cartoonists only lampooned rightwing politicians (ignoring the fact that we have a conservative far-right Government). "How the hell did we get here?" ABC TV 6/1/07 presented the Australian baby-boomers' top 20 TV comedy shows - mostly Australian but including some British (Yes Minister, Monty Python and Fawlty Towers) and American. Number 1 was M.A.S.H., and the show host said, reflecting an irritatingly widespread attitude, that it was surprising to find an American show with such an Australian sense of humour. Look out, however, for the start of a new claim - that the Australian sense of humour (whatever that is) may actually be an Aboriginal sense of humour. I saw it last week in an article, The joke's on us by Shane Brady in the Sydney Morning Herald (2/1/07).

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Assertion of intellectual property rights over languages is happening. Here's an FAQ in a public archive for Australian Aboriginal material (ASEDA, AIATSIS).

Q: Why do speakers restrict access to material in their languages?

A: Many speakers of endangered languages consider that their language is their intellectual property, passed down to them from their ancestors.  If it is made freely available to others, then their rights in that language can be diminished.  Usually they do not want strangers to use words and sentences of their languages in an inappropriate way, and want to be consulted prior to public use.

At Language Log, Mark Liberman has a couple of comments on Tom's recent post about this with respect to the Mapuche people's complaint against Microsoft, and following Geoffrey Pullum's post on the same topic.

If this idea were really to be accepted into the system governing the usual laws of property, I suspect that the consequences would surprise and displease many of those who start out supporting it . For some discussion, see "The Algonquian morpheme auction" (3/3/2004).

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Yesterday brought two good news stories: an Indigenous linguist has been honoured as the Northern Territory's Australian of the Year, and the first relic of the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt's last journey has been authenticated.


Pretty soon the remote areas of Australia will be uninhabited. Drought and high fuel prices are forcing farmers and graziers off their land. And these, together with Government policies, are forcing Aborigines off their land. Along with the departure of the people will go their languages and societies. Gary Johns writes in The Australian (11/10/06):
"The Government has begun to stop supporting a recreational lifestyle in the name of preserving a culture."
Apparently Aborigines are to be 'refugees' or 'migrants' (Johns' words) in fringe camps around bigger towns. He thinks this is a Good Idea.

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There was an engaging documentary Bush School on SBS tonight, about Warrego School in a ghost mining town out of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. It started a few years ago with eleven Warlmanpa children from the Mangarlawurru [Mungalawurru] Aboriginal community travelling 80 km each day to get to there. They're still going, singing their lessons in the bus. They attend 100% of the time, achieve national benchmarks in English literacy and numeracy, focus on horse-riding and swimming. The school is working hard to combat the hearing loss that most of the kids suffer from (ear infections have meant that several of the children have hearing aids). And they've sent one of their brightest students to study at a private girls school in New South Wales.

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Lost in the relief over the ceasefire in Lebanon, the dropping of the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006, and the proposed conscience vote on stem cell research, another bill has passed that will greatly affect the lives of many speakers of Aboriginal languages. This week the Senate has been discussing the ABORIGINAL LAND RIGHTS (NORTHERN TERRITORY) AMENDMENT BILL 2006. Go to Hansard for Tuesday 15/8/06 and Wednesday 16/8/06 for the speeches by Senators Christopher Evans, Rachel Siewert and Andrew Bartlett which bring out the likely consequences of the bill. The Age has an article on it [thanks!], but there's not much else. Working in the Northern Territory in the 1980s, I provided linguistic evidence for the Warumungu land claim, and was able to see the effect that the success of that and other claims had. People took greater control of their own lives and futures, and one effect was increased interest in, and effort to maintain, their own languages. It was clear that land mattered to people, and, on the negative side, could lead to violent disagreements between groups. The implementation of the Native title legislation has made this much worse. But this bill has the potential to create even more disagreements.


How did you interpret the intent of Census Question 22 "Does the person ever need someone to help with, or be with them for, communication activities?" What's 'Australian' ancestry (C.Q.18)? As always, census forms raises concerns of interpreting the questions, and interpreting the answers to the questions, especially when the forms are being filled out by speakers of other languages.

Monday's Sydney Morning Herald has a short article on the physical problems of doing the census at Wadeye, in particular the fact that they have "hired eight Wadeye residents who translate the questions for people into their local language and then fill in the answers for them." A good start. The mention that John Taylor was there as an observer took me back to his excellent co-authored paper "Making sense of the census: observations of the 2001 enumeration in remote Aboriginal Australia."

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On Thursday 29 June 2006 I joined heaps of overcoated people in the large, airy Reading Room of the Australian Institute of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
(AIATSIS) in Canberra. We were celebrating the launch of "Indigitisation" - a three year funded digitisation program for sound, text, film, and photographs. The view of lake, sky and trees and some determined ducks was a distraction from the speeches, but some things stuck - 40,000 hours of sound recordings of Indigenous languages to digitise, lots of expensive machines, some enthusiastic staff, and as yet no off-site backup. Storage problems mean they're not digitising everything at 24-bit, 96 kHz. They're planning to deliver some sound files through the web, where communities have given permission. So in future you should be able to click on some on-line catalogue entries and download sound files.

The AIATSIS Library staff showed "Collectors of words" - a web presentation of the nineteenth century word-lists of Australian languages from E. M. Curr and Victorian and Tasmanian languages from R. B. Brough Smyth . They're available as pdfs, organised alphabetically according to the place the words were attributed to, and linked to maps. A nice feature is the linking to the AIATSIS catalogue, so that you can find other materials referring to the same language group. Unfortunately the pdfs are only images - you can't search for text in them. If you want text copies of Curr, go for the transcribed copies in AIATSIS's electronic text archive ASEDA. These aren't yet linked to the scanned images - a job for the future!


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