The passing of Dr Tommy George from Laura means a significant loss of language and cultural knowledge. Dr George was the last fluent speaker of Awu Laya, the language of the Kuku Thaypan people. He was also a renowned stockman and helped to establish the Cape York Dance Festival, a biennial cultural event held at Laura.
In 2005, Dr Tommy George and his brother Dr George Musgrave were granted honorary doctorates from James Cook University in recognition of their knowledge and work on Cape York in the area of environmental management and ‘caring for country’. In particular, their knowledge of fire management and ecology was incorporated into ecological management systems and practices across Cape York.
The brothers and their family were raised on Musgrave Station and kept safe from the authorities by the then station owner Fred Shepherd. State Library filmed a digital story with Dr George which shares stories of his childhood and working life on Musgrave Station as well as his later work with the Laura Dance Festival. In the digital story he talks about his language and passing it onto his Grandchildren at Laura school. AIATSIS in Canberra have several works by Dr George, including sound recordings of songs and storylines recorded in 2006 with his brother. This recording was part of the Traditional Knowledge Revival Pathways initiative which helped to document the traditional knowledge of Dr George and Dr Musgrave.
State Library holds only one reference to Kuku Thaypan – Bruce Rigsby who undertook linguistic work on Cape York during the 1970’s contributed articles to “Languages of Cape York: Papers presented to a symposium organised by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.”
One of these articles includes a short wordlist of everyday words from Kuku Thaypan which represents one of the few documents pertaining to the language; the remaining linguistic and cultural knowledge rested with Dr Tommy George and the rich legacy he has left behind.
George, T. (2013) Fire: and the story of burning country. Text by Cape York Elders & community leaders ; photographed & recorded by Peter McConchie. 333.76099438 2013
Scragg, S. (2009) 10183 Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival Photographs 2009. Available online SLQ: http://hdl.handle.net/10462/eadarc/7662
Sutton, P. (ed) (1974) Languages of Cape York: papers presented to the Linguistic Symposium, Part B, held in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Biennial General Meeting, May,1974. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. G 499.15 1976
Tommy George Q150 Digital Story. Available online SLQ: http://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/211091