Denise Smith-Ali is a member of the Noongar language group in South-west of Western Australia, which is a community of several thousand people in two clans, Kaneang and Wilman. Noongar has gone from being a language with almost no speakers left to being revived into one of the largest language groups in Australia. Denise will talk about her strategies to develop a dictionary for Noongar that draws on the historical sources for her language and present-day usage. She will also talk about restoring the original sound system of her language and guiding her people gently back to a more Noongar way of talking.
Power and Perspective: Australian History told in Indigenous Languages
The Gurindji people of the Northern Territory are best known throughout Australia for the Wave Hill Walk-Off, the landmark event of 1966 which precipitated the equal wages case in the pastoral industry and the establishment of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (1986). The history of Gurindji country before the 1960s is less well known. Fragments of this history are buried in police journals, pastoralists' memoirs and anthropological studies, but a much greater portion is retained in the detailed accounts of events that Gurindji elders either witnessed or heard from their parents and grandparents. Stories of massacres, ill treatment at the hands of early pastoralists, details of the Gurindji resistance and other historically significant events continue to be told across the generations.
A number of anthropological descriptions from Rose (1991), Lewis (2012) and the Berndts (1948b) capture the Gurindji perspective, but these accounts are given in Kriol or pidgin English which is not the first language of Gurindji people. As a result, their accounts are often halting and fragmented, and require intense interrogation to be understood.
Yijarni: True Stories from Gurindji Country (Charola & Meakins, in press) is the book where the history of the southern Victoria River District is told by Gurindji people in the richness of the Gurindji language. The book is the result of an extensive collaboration between Gurindji knowledge holders, artists of Karungkarni Arts, the Murnkurrumurnkurru Central Land Council rangers, photographers and linguists (Through Our Eyes: Gurindji History Project, ABA 2014-16, CIs Penny Smith, Felicity Meakins)
This talk compares Gurindji language accounts of the historical events in Yijarni with pidgin English accounts given to anthropologists and historians by the same Gurindji people. The aim is to demonstrate the consequences of the use of different languages. The talk then examines the use of a number of linguistic devices including vocabulary, code-switching and, more subtly, bound pronouns (Meakins, 2015) to discursively construct kartiya or the non-Indigenous colonists. This talk argues that if we are to truly represent Australian history from an Indigenous perspective, the inclusion of Indigenous voices is not enough in and of itself, but historical accounts must be given in the first languages of Indigenous historians and witnesses.
Berndt, C., & Berndt, R. (1948b). Pastoral stations in the Northern Territory and native welfare. Aborigines Protector, 2(4), 13-16.
Charola, E., & Meakins, F. (Eds.). (in press). Yijarni: True Stories from Gurindji Country. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Lewis, D. (2012). A Wild History: Life and Death on the Victoria River Frontier. Melbourne: Monash University.
Meakins, F. (2015). Not obligatory: Bound pronoun variation in Gurindji and Bilinarra. Asia-Pacific Language Variation, 1(2), 128-161.
Rose, D. B. (1991). Hidden histories: Black stories from Victoria River Downs, Humbert River and Wavehill Stations. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Wilson de Lima Silva
Suzi Oliveira de Lima