Jurlpu Wardikinpirri-wana: Bilingual Warlpiri Bird Book
—back in Yuendumu again doing some visiting with the preeminent desert philosopher Frank Baarda and the fabulous Warlpiri linguist and educator Wendy. Frank and Wendy have been living in this beautiful part of the world for over forty years now. Wendy and the team from the BRDU took me on an extraordinary trip down memory lane to the hills of Yarripilangu We camped at Wardikinpirri pirli (a Warlpiri Jukurrpa site marked by hills) in the Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary. Old people, students and Rangers got together out bush, singing songs of country and telling stories of birds. Travelling from place to place, visiting sites, talking and singing – the country was prolific with birdlife. From the hills of Yarripilangu we traveled to waterholes near Napanangka-jarra, out to Yajarlu, the clay pans at Kapuka on the Nyirrpi road, and then on to the spring at Yankanjini (Lake Bennett).
The Jurlpu Wardikinpirri-wana: Bilingual Warlpiri Bird Book project was all about on country inter-generational engagement of older knowledge holders with multi age students and specialist scientists to improve the status of local authorities, numeracy and literacy, school attendance, and to exemplify practical steps toward higher education pathways. Getting back to country and going hunting, yuway !!!
The broader project seeks to encourage community group participation, that is all those service provider institutions, in such a way as to provide useful local outcomes, that is the kinds of things that local people want. These outcomes related to further education, not necessarily as conceived by kardiya (whitefella institutions) but in a practical way that incorporate local and traditional knowledge. This local knowledge gives indigenous learners confidence in the imposed institutional spaces provided by the state and gives useful, interesting and necessary advantage to participation in these mainstream contexts. ( for a full treatment of this emic perspective see Peter Toyne’s 2000 thesis the Internal Colonization of the Warlpiri and it Resistance Through Educational Practice)
Yuendumu is the largest remote community in Central Australia. It is located 300kms North West of Alice Springs. It has a population of between 800-1000 people. The population of mostly Warlpiri speaking people is situated on the eastern edge of Anmatyerr country. Yuendumu is located within the Yuendumu Aboriginal Lands Trust area, which includes numerous outstations, though most suffer from lack of services and issues with distance, water, sustainable natural harvest etc. Yuendumu retains links with other Warlpiri communities at Lajamanu, Willowra and Nyirripi included in the Bird project
Yuendumu and Nyirripi Rangers service the Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) which spans some 101,000 square kilometers comprising of vast spinifex sand plains, broad paleo-drainage channels (ancient rivers) and low rocky ranges. The Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) covers the southern portion of the Tanami Desert. The Walpiri traditional owners of this vast land continue to take the intergenerational responsibility for its care as the highest value.
The bird rich wetlands in this area take in the Lander River system and its associated swamps and waterholes, botanically important paleo-drainage systems and many small soaks and rock holes. It includes Yinapaka (Lake Surprise), a culturally significant site which is included on the Directory of Important Wetlands of Australia. This lake is considered to be in near pristine condition and when full it is the largest body of fresh water in the Tanami Desert. It is known to provide important habitat for waterbirds and fish. Another large (saline) lake system, Lake MacKay, to the west of Yuendumu, also has international significance as episodic breeding grounds for wetland bird species protected under international treaties (CLC, URL: www.clc.org.au).
Warlpiri people, Yuendumu residents and school councils have been unyielding promoters of bilingual education, both through the school (often despite Education department policy settings) and through all other community activities (again often despite cross-cultural issues with non-Warlpiri project delivery. For example, Warlpiri Media, now PAW, started by community members in 1986 to create local television and radio programs for the community and school in Warlpiri language). As you may know I worked for WMA for three years from xmas 1989 to 1992 as a volunteer and living on the floor of my brothers shed. These were wonderful times as people were filled with the strong desire to drive back this fourth invasion by TV satellite. This bi-lingual/cultural education resistance movement dubbed ‘fighting fire with fire’ by the wonderful then octogenarian Darby Jampijimpa Ross was and is seen as a cornerstone of further learning and the foundation of a “cultural future”. (See also Eric Michaels’ Invention of Television and Tim Rowses’ wonderful Administrative Imagination). This sense of emic perspective is a fundamental element in any positive engagement with Warlpiri people. There are many resources (human, written, multi-media and other) and significant good will for project managers and proponents to access Warlpiri and bi-lingual language support in project delivery and outcomes. The value of Bilingual education has been masked by the state through NTED in order to reduce their responsibility to respond to and cost of providing proper education for remote children. Frank tells us that
In 1994 IAD Press published ‘Aboriginal Languages in Education’
Nangala Baarda contributed a ten page article to this compendium titled: ‘The impact of the bilingual program at Yuendumu, 1974 to 1993’ Nangala didn’t shy away from mentioning some of the problems faced by the school in delivering education to Warlpiri children, but overall presented a very positive scenario, because it was. Under the sub-title ‘Benefits of the bilingual program’ there is this: “…The status of the Warlpiri language has improved greatly in the community, in the eyes of both white people and Warlpiri people. It is not ignored or put down by anyone. Lots of meetings are conducted in Warlpiri these days, with the decisions being related to the white people afterwards. And the language has gained in respect, so have the people. The bilingual program, together with the much less racist treatment of Aboriginal people, seems to be producing young people who are more sure of their identity and more satisfied with it…”
Glenn and I went down to YND and caught up with some old friends. Calling on long standing friendships and kinship links at Yuendumu we sought direction from the community members for a focus in this bilingual project. A three part project was conceived of by countrymen to allow for bush trips to Newhaven Station (Wardikinpirri) close to Nyirripi, to Willowra and to Lajamanu. This geographical spread would allow us to obtain pictures, sound and stories of birds present in all the different ecological zones inside the Warlpiri domain. Further it would provide opportunities to gather knowledgeable elders and young people on difficult to access country to exchange important knowledge.
The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA) partnered with Yuendumu School Bilingual Resources Development Unit (BRDU), the Yuendumu and Nyirrpi Rangers and Dr Bentley James to deliver an on-country workshop recording songs, stories and photographs of birds for the Warlpiri Bird Dictionary. The trip involved Yuendumu School students, traditional knowledge holders, Warlpiri language specialist Wendy Baarda, and PhD candidate and bird whiz Micha Jackson.
The following fabulous photo by Micha and taken at Yarripilangu is of mani-tirrpi-tirrpi – Red Capped Robin and the story by Tess Ross Napaljarrirli
Mani-tirrpi-tirrpi jukurrpa kujalpa nyinaja ngulaju yapa-wiyi, kujurnulpa-nyanu kuruwarri yalyu-yalyu rduku-rdukurla manu jurrungka karntaku-purdarlu. Ngulajangka yarnkajarra. Nyangu jana karnta-karnta. Pirri-manu wurnturu ngula rdirri-yungu yunparninjaku. Ngurun-manulpa manu yunparnulpa karntapatu-kurra. Yunparnulpa yilpinji ngurrju-nyayirni manulpa jana jurlpu panu-kari yirdimanu yungurlu panungku yunparni yilpinji. Jukurrpa nyampuju ngulaju Japaljarri, Jungarrayi.
In the dreamtime when the robin was a person, he put red on his chest and head to get himself a wife. Then he set out. He saw some women. He sat down a little way off and got ready to sing. He was humming and singing to the women. He sang a lovely love song and he called out to the other birds to come and sing love songs with him. This dreaming is for Japaljarri and Jungarrayi.
The Jurlpu Wardikinpirri-wana: Bilingual Warlpiri Bird Book categorises the different kinds of named country in which the various bird varieties are found. The following is an excerpt from the book in English.
- 37. Manangkarra – spinifex country
The little birds that lay their eggs in the spinifex are the quail, the red-browed pardalotte and spinifex pigeons. These make their nests and look after their babies on the ground in the spinifex. Bush turkeys and emus lay their eggs in a grass nest on the ground in the spinifex plains. Birds of prey like the fork tailed kite, collared sparrowhawk, hobby, nankeen kestral, hawks and falcons, fly high above the plains
- 45 Pamarrpa-wana – In the hills
Eagles, hobbies, buzzards and other birds of prey live around the hills. They make their nests for their eggs up high on the cliffs or in tall trees in the hills. The spinifex pigeon also lives around the hills and lays its eggs on the ground by stoney creeks. Fairy martins build their mud nests on the roof of caves in the hills.
- 43. Ngalyarrpa-wana – In the sand hill country
In the sandhill country we see birds of prey, the buzzard, the hobby, sparrowhawk, nankeen kestral and others. They eat quails and little birds and moles and sand lizards, Blue backed dragons, sand swimmers and others.
- 44. Yuurku – Mulga forest
Lots of birds live in the mulga forest, small ones like the bell bird, crimson chat, red capped robin, hooded robin, mistletoe bird, they all build their nests and lay their eggs in the tops of trees. So do bigger birds like the grey crowned babbler, butcher bird, crested pigeon, diamond dove and bronze wing pigeon. The southern boobook owl and the barn owl make their nest for their eggs in hollow trees in the forest or inbloodwood trees on the plains. They come out at night to hunt for meat.
- 46 Marliri – Claypans
After a big rain, when water lies in the claypans, lots of birds gather there, wood swallows, plovers, budgerigahs, finches and wood martins and make their nests in the trees around the claypans. Lots of waterbirds come too, ducks, cranes, native hens and curlews. They eat small things that live in the water, frogs, tadpoles, mosquitoes and dragonflies
- 47 Warnirri – Rockholes
Around the rockholes we see zebra finches, honey eaters, robins and many others. They come for water and to eat honey from the Beantree flowers. After that they fly off to the forest and the plains. Zebra finches always stay close to water and they show us where the rockholes are.
- 48 Murluwurru – Salt Lakes
After a big rain, when there is water in the salt lakes, lots of birds come, duck, native hens, cranes and even pelicans. When the water is gone or there is only a little salty water the water birds leave. Only the red capped plover stays around the salt lake for a long time.
- 49 Karru – Creeks
Along the creeks and ditches there are lots of birds. Kingfishers and rainbow lorikeets dig themselves a home in the banks high up. Lots of others make their homes on hollows in the river gums, budgerigahs, ringneck parrots, cockatiels, little corellas, cockatoos.
- 49 Ngurra-wana – Around the camp
We see lots of birds around the camp, crows, butcher birds, magpie larks, pigeons, galahs, zebra finches, willywag-tails, black faced cuckoos, rufous whistlers, red capped robins, honey eaters and others. These are not frightened to come close topeople’s camps.
- 50 Bore-wana – Around the bore
Around the bore we see very many birds, major Mitchell cockatoos, zebra finches, galahs, crested pigeons, diamond doves, bronzewing doves, spiney cheeked honey eaters, These are frightened of people. When we go close they fly away.
Thank you to Tess Napaljarri and Nangala Baarda for the wonderful experiences and the fabulous bilingual children’s book. If you want to access a copy of this beautiful book contact the YND School BRDU.
With NAILSMA we produced an eNews report entitled Singing Songs of Country: practical pathways and confidence building for Higher Learning NAILSMA eNews update 18 December 2015 to be found at :
The following paraphrases the Enews describing how we found a total of 34 bird species during the week and recorded Warlpiri names and knowledge about many birds not described in the existing dictionary, Jurlpu kuja karlipa nyanyi Yurntumu-wana (Warlpiri Bird Dictionary; Yuendumu BRDU and Central Land Council)
Talking to young people one young person said ‘old people know too many stories’. The delight of students coming to know the names of locally familiar birds is enhanced by the onomatopoeic character of Warlpiri bird names. There were thousands of Jiyiki (Zebra Finch) who say, ‘ji-yiki ji-yiki‘; and at night Kurrul-kurrulpa (Tawny Frogmouth) who says ‘kurrul-kurrul’; Kaarnka (Crow) who says ‘kaa-kaa’; Jintirr-jintirrpa (Willy Wagtail); and Pinparlajarrpa (Masked Wood Swallow, (a nomadic bird that appeared in thousands at Kapuka), not to mention Mani rtirrpi-rtirrpi the Red-Capped Robin, putting on his red paint to look handsome.
These bush trips were focused on bringing together old and young people on country to share knowledge. Local knowledge held by senior community members and Rangers promotes understanding of the work and cultural responsibilities community members have for look after country and kin. These experiences and collected materials and composed into a variety of useful learning tools that reinforce this knowledge into the future. For example, photo dictionaries, work books, habitat posters, audio/visual material for iPad’s and I-Tracker applications (for use by students and Rangers)
This project is one of a number of projects that NAILSMA has facilitated through the Charles Darwin University led Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Projects (HEPPP) Whole of Community Engagement (WCE) – an initiative of the Australian Government. NAILSMA helps identify and facilitate opportunities for remote Indigenous students and adult learners to participate in higher learning. NAILSMA works alongside local community leaders to run projects that reinforce local and traditional knowledge (linguistic, cultural, site specific) and build confidence for engaging effectively in mainstream education and training, with a practical focus on sustainable benefits from natural and cultural resource management on land and sea Country. That is why I like working with NAILSMA.
These projects really do produce fabulous outcomes decided and designed by people on country about the things they are concerned about. NAILSMA and the people of the Warlpiri people who own the country have a vision for northern development that needs real consideration, just ask them.
So, dinner at Frank and Wendy’s was hilarious as always overwhelmed by stories of travels and anecdotes. Not least of all the horrible increase in dysfunction and disadvantage foisted upon the families of YND by the intervention and punitive policing regimes OF settler state colonialism. The big buzz word these days is family protection, HA ! Sorry for sounding cynical but listen what Frank has to say about family at YND. I have copied this from one of his fabulous private emails from which I am going to steal, so forgive me Frank -but you say it so well.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Walalja is a Warlpiri word, often translated as Family.
Mishpocha is a Hebrew derived Yiddish word, usually translated as Family.
It isn’t the first time I mention that the meaning of Walalja is closer to Mishpocha than it is to Family
Walalja means so much more than just Family. It is everything your extended Family ‘owns’ including your homeland.
I was in conversation with a Jewish-American (U.S.A.) academic working in Yuendumu. (You might remember this guy as the fellow who wrote the ‘Aboriginal invention of Television, with Francis Kelly) When I used the word Mishpocha, the academic got all dewy eyed. The word Family is far less likely to evoke such a strong emotional response.
The Family-Mishpocha-Walalja sequence could be said to increase exponentially in depth and scope of meaning.
At one end of the Family spectrum are the single-parent and nuclear Families. Ranging through various polygamous or extended Families until the other end of the spectrum is reached. The Family of Nations.
The stereotypical nuclear Family appears on cereal packets. A man, a woman, a boy and a girl, all with perfect teeth and haircuts. A regular Family in more ways than one.
In fact, in the global experience it is the most irregular Family. In Africa, Asia, the Arab World, Latin America and the 4th world, extended families are the norm.
More insight into this thesis of ‘Hypernormalisation’ can be seen in Adam Curtis’s new film by that name. Or to hear the words of the deserts’ foremost philosophical poet write to Frank at YND mining CO/ Post office Yuendumu 0872 and ask to go on his mailing list for pointed and brilliant philosophical insight on the state of play on the ground. I am lazy and will leave the last word to Frank–
Remote Aboriginal Australia refuses to be what they, the assimilationist authorities, expect them to be. They are the twisted branch, the most diverse section of Australian Society. They are the biggest Disappointment in ‘Team Australia’ (the lovely Australian Family of our collective national psyche)
Until the next time,
Jungarrayi (brother of Jungarrayi and Nungarrayi, father of Japaljarri and Napaljarri, husband of Nangala and so forth…)