Barcaldine Language Workshop

Western Queensland languages (Breen, 1990)

In the first week of August, I headed west to Barcaldine to work with community language groups in the region. The Central-West Aboriginal Corporation visited the State Library in April and requested assistance to help community groups to research their languages. As shown in the above map, there is a diversity of languages across the region which takes in major catchment areas that feed into Lake Eyre Basin; all of these are considered endangered.

Alice River – Curr , 1886.

There is only limited linguistic work in the area, notably Gavan Breen in the 1960’s; in addition, there are a handful of historical wordlists collected in the late 1800’s. For example, the above wordlist was collected by John Ahern who was Sub-Inspector of Police based at Blackall in the 1870’s. Curr included the wordlist in his publication The Australian Race: its origins, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent. There are similar wordlists from across the region also published by Curr – these were often collected by pastoralists, police and others and are often the only documentation for many languages.

Iningai wordlist – Breen, 1990.

As these early materials were collected by non-speakers without a linguistic background, it is important to view the contemporary work of linguists such as Breen who spoke to and recorded several speakers across the region – several participants at the workshop had ancestors who were recorded by Breen. These recordings are held at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra. Breen’s fieldwork was published as Salvage studies of Western Queensland Aboriginal languages – the above image of the Iningai language of Barcaldine and Longreach districts is sourced from Breen’s work.

Children’s Talking Book [Arluwa-kari wangka thimparda], Joyce Crombie and Jean Barr-Crombie (2014).

Despite the limited published material, there has been some local community-based activity and many of those involved were in attendance.  The driving force behind ‘two sisters talking’ Joyce and Jean shared their work with the group – in conjunction with Red Ridge Interior Queensland at Blackall they have published two books featuring Wangkangurru/Yarluyandi languages. Both of these are on order and should be available soon in the State Library collections.

Looking for Tucker [Murra manilhuku yukarnda], Joyce Crombie and Jean Barr-Crombie (2018).

These Channel Country languages straddle the Queensland and South Australian borders and community groups have received support from the Mobile Language Team based in Adelaide. The Mobile Language Team covers all of South Australia to support the documentation, revitalisation and maintenance of traditional languages. Within the Channel Country, Luise Hercus undertook linguistic work in the region from the 1960’s and has recorded speakers as well as compiling dictionaries and other language materials. Her definitive work A grammar of the Arabana-Wangkangurru language is in the State Library Collections and features ancestors of Joyce and Jean as primary informants.

Desert Channels Picture Dictionaries.

Another local organisation that has supported language revival across the region is Desert Channels Queensland which is a natural resources management body based in Longreach. Working with the Traditional Owners of the Lake Eyre Basin and a linguist, Desert Channels produced a series of eye-catching resources for Pitta Pitta, Koa, Yulluna, Kalkadoon and Waluwarra languages. These five booklets are also in the State Library collections and were the first step in documenting the sixteen languages of the region.

Western Queensland languages wordle.

It was a great couple of days that brought together community members from across the region to network and share ideas, resources and plans to bring their languages back to life.  The group are keen to follow up the workshop and explore opportunities for future workshops and other community-based language activities. A big thank you to Wendy and Janeece at Central West Aboriginal Corporation for organising this event.

Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland.

State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages webpages

Further Reading

The following items represent some of the State Library collection items for languages in Western Queensland, including Barcaldine, Longreach, Winton, Boulia and Birdsville.

Beckett, J. and Hercus, L. (2009) The two rainbow serpents travelling : mura track narratives from the Corner Country P 299.9215 BEC  

Breen, J.G. (1990) Salvage Studies of Western Queensland Aboriginal Languages.  J 499.15 bre

Breen, J. G. and Blake, B. (2007) The grammar of Yalarnnga: a language of western Queensland. J 499.152 BRE

Crombie, J. and Barr-Crombie, J. (2014) Children’s Talking Book [Arluwa-kari wangka thimparda]JUV 499.15 CRO

Crombie, J. and Barr-Crombie, J. (2018) Looking for Tucker [Murra manilhuku yukarnda]. JUV 499.15 CRO

Curr, E. M. (1887) The Australian Race: its origins, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continentRBF 572.994 cur

Desert Channels Queensland (2013)  Kalkadoon : pictorial dictionaryJUVQ 499.9915 KAL

Desert Channels Queensland (2013)  Koa : pictorial dictionaryJUVQ 499.9915 KOA

Desert Channels Queensland (2013)  Pitta Pitta : pictorial dictionaryJUVQ 499.9915 PIT

Desert Channels Queensland (2013)  Waluwarra : pictorial dictionaryJUVQ 499.9915 WAL

Desert Channels Queensland (2013)  Yulluna : pictorial dictionaryJUVQ 499.9915 YUL

Hercus, L. (1994) A grammar of the Arabana-Wangkangurru language, Lake Eyre Basin, South AustraliaG 499.15 1994

Holmer, N. (1988) Notes on Some Queensland Languages. J 499.15 HOL