March 25, 2014

Kevin Rogers talking up strong and the ignorance of Munanga

Old Kevin Rogers at Ngukurr is lovely, clever, skinny old man. (Not OLD-old, but old enough for me to call him in 'old man' in that Aboriginal term-of-respect type way). If a Munanga visited Ngukurr today, they might easily overlook him and probably never realise that he is a university graduate and former principal of Ngukurr School.

An article of his, 'Blekbala Kaltja at Ngukurr Community School', was published in 1991 in a volume called "Aboriginal Pedagogy: Aboriginal teachers speak out". It contains this great quote:
Some Munanga working in Aboriginal Education have a one-sided view of curriculum. They feel that Munanga knowledge taught and structured in a Munanga way is more important than Blekbala knowledge. They undervalue Blekbala knowledge and when training Blekbala teachers they try to force them to have a Munanga pedagogy. They understand very little about Blekbala Kaltja and their attitudes of superiority make them oppressors of our culture (Rogers 1991: 149)
When I first lived in Ngukurr in 2004, times were different. It was pre-Intervention. ATSIC had only just been dismantled. School council still had discretionary funding (called ASSPA) and a handful of local qualified teachers still worked there full-time. You needed a permit to visit and the community still ran the local council. Along with that went the regular community meetings where everyone would gather at the council office around a crackly PA and debate whatever issue was the hot topic of that week.

I really feel that thesedays - especially post-Intervention - the idea that remote Aboriginal people have the knowledge and authority to shape and control their own lives is fading among Munanga. The prevailing attitude is increasingly that we know best and that remote Aboriginal people somehow need saving from themselves. In the self-determination era, Munanga tried much harder to simply support Aboriginal people to get to where they wanna be. Now we (Munanga) are much more dictatorial and the wants and desires of Aboriginal people are more easily rendered irrelevant. The problem that old Kevin identifies in his quote above has become much worse.

But I digress somewhat. Going back to Kevin's original point in his quote above - that Munanga undervalue Blekbala Kaltja and our attitudes of superiority make us oppressors - I can recall a perfect example of what he's talking about:

A couple of years ago, I was on a bush trip with old Kevin. He was taking a bunch of Munanga to see some spectacular places. On the trip, he was telling us about what his surname should be, if missionaries hadn't have given his family the surname Rogers. The name was a clan name from Numbulwar area - a long name, I think it was Numamurdirdi. In response, a Munanga who worked full-time for the Education Department (and had been in Ngukurr for a couple of years had opportunity to learn a thing or two), then said something like 'Oh well I'm glad you've got the name Rogers then!'. She thought she was being funny and cute, referring to how intimidating the name 'Numamurdirdi' was to her. But to me it was a perfect example of the ignorance of some (many?) Munanga that old Kevin had written about twenty years earlier.


Rogers, Kevin. 1991. "Blekbala Kaltja at Ngukurr Community School". In Aboriginal Pedagogy: Aboriginal teachers speak out. Geelong, Deakin University Press. 144-150.

February 18, 2014

Whitewashed: The Northern Territory Library's disturbing commemoration of the life of Paul Foelsche

Most of my work as a linguist has been working with senior Aboriginal people who are the last speakers of their language. It is challenging and important work, adding fragments to the relatively meagre records that testify to these languages existence. Languages don't disappear simply because parents don't teach them to their kids. Significant historical and social forces are always at play. A key historical factor in the Australian context is the events on the frontier that led to a drastic reduction in the already small number of speakers of languages. In the Northern Territory, that 'reduction' (read: wholesale slaughter and murder of Aboriginal people) was often under the knowing watch of Paul Foelsche, Sub-inspector in Charge of Police in what is now the Northern part of the Northern Territory from 1870 to 1904.

Paul Foelsche
The Northern Territory Library, situated inside Parliament House, has produced a temporary exhibition 'commemorating' Foelsche and his 'life work' coinciding with the centenary of his death. My view is that the exhibition is a disgusting misrepresentation of his 'life's work', failing dismally to explicitly acknowledge his key role in organising, covering up, ignoring or condoning brutal violence that occurred in the Top End in the late 1800s. Before discussing the exhibition in further detail, I'd like to share some reference material on Foelsche that the NT Library exhibition doesn't tell you.

In historical accounts of the frontier era of the Top End of the NT, Foelsche's name comes up regularly which is understandable given he was a prominent figure and headed the police for decades. How that era is portrayed by historians has changed over time. In the early to mid 1900s the prevailing attitude was to romanticise the frontier, when the goal was nation-building and Aboriginal people were still thought of as a 'dying race'. In recent decades, historians are much more ready to delve into the sinister sides of the frontier.

Gordon Reid's 1990 book 'A Picnic with the Natives: Aboriginal-European relations in the Northern Territory to 1910' provides some telling information on Foelsche. The book's jarring title is in fact taken from Foelsche's own words. Following the murder of Charles Johnson in the Roper Area, Foelsche authorised a retaliation party of ten to go and 'have a picnic with the natives'. The warrant Foelsche obtained included unknown Aboriginal people, which he described as 'the loophole' (p. 67) - a sinister suggestion that the retaliation party could kill indiscriminantly. In a personal letter to a friend, Foelsche wrote he would've gone himself were it not for 'too many tale-tellers in the party', a suggestion that he didn't want stories of him getting out that portrayed him with too much blood on his hands.

Reid doesn't just discuss Foelsche's role in frontier violence, also describing how "some writers present Foelsche as being sympathetic towards the Aborigines" (p. 71) and that he "later became known as an expert on the Aborigines of the Territory" (p. 69). Reid didn't find convincing evidence of either characteristic. On Foelsche's supposedly 'sympathetic' attitude, Reid quotes from another personal letter:
Of course you have seen all about our Nigger Hunt in the papers. ... I left it to Stretton, and I could not have done better than he did so I am satisfied and so is the public here.
On Foelsche's reputation for expertise on Aboriginal people and cultures, Reid found that "his knowledge however seems limited and he lacked any sympathy for them" (p. 69).

Foelsche's reputation for harsh treatment of Aboriginal people isn't restricted to historians who could be dismissed as sympathisers of Aboriginal people. Bill Wilson served on the NT Police force for 27 years before writing a PhD on the history of the NT Police Force from 1870-1926 (2000). He also relays the above quotes from Foelsche's personal communications and, somewhat diplomatically, writes that Foelsche "was not patient towards Aboriginal people who resisted the invasion of their land" (p. 80).

The historian who has most recently described the NT frontier is Tony Roberts, most notably in his 2005 book 'Frontier Justice: A history of the Gulf Country to 1900'. Roberts describes a request Foelsche made to the attorney-general of South Australia, Sir John Downer, in 1881 revealing his proposal on tackling violence occurring in the Limmen Bight and Borroloola area.
He asked the government for immunity from prosecution for his men, so they might slaughter sufficient numbers of the locals to teach them "a severe lesson". He said he wanted to "inflict severe chastisement if the government will legalise it" and to "punish the guilty tribe without trying to arrest the murderers" (Roberts 2009).
(Note: that 'guilty tribe' could well have been or included Marra people, whose now-critically endangered language I have been documenting for several years now).

Fortunately, Foelsche was not permitted to go ahead with his proposal, but Roberts claims the denial of his request had a worrying consequence: "Foelsche learned not to seek prior approval in future, and successive governments continued to ask no questions" (Roberts 2009). Roberts' research leads him to the following devastating conclusion:
The man who masterminded more massacres in the Territory than anyone else was Inspector Foelsche. A former soldier, he was cunning, devious and merciless with Aboriginals... Some considered him an expert on Aboriginals, not knowing that the skulls he studied were not merely collected by him (Roberts 2009).
One hundred years after the death of Paul Foelsche, the NT Library has put together a 'commemorative' exhibition, "Paul Foelsche: A Life's Work (1831-1914)". I was very interested to see how they would portray him, especially after seeing the celebratory tone of the exhibition launch invitation (left) which was at complete odds with what I'd been learning about the man.

I finally made my way to Darwin to see it for myself and, my fears confirmed, I found it to be a disturbing and disgusting whitewash of a man who, without too much of a stretch, could easily be considered to have played a key role in attempted genocide.

It's only a small exhibition and to be fair doesn't attract much traffic. Those who do take the time to peruse it can see a few artefacts and read about Foelsche's legacy. Or rather, a distinctly positive and comfortable interpretation of his legacy. Seven panels cover various aspects of his life under headings such as 'The Ethnographer', 'Collecting the Territory', 'Founder of the Force' and 'Developing Darwin'. Each describes with palpable positivity the contributions Foelsche made to various domains. On living in Darwin during the city's infancy, he "was a significant part of its emerging social life becoming known as a 'perfect encyclopaedia in Northern Territory affairs and people". His "excellent photographs" are discussed in some detail. We're also told how his police work "won him high praise as an intelligent resourceful officer ... with a thorough knowledge of the law". We're told of his amateur ethnographic work and how "with meticulous detail Foelsche documented [artefact's] language terms and precise function".

The exhibition ultimately summarises his legacy like this:
Foelsche was an integral part of Northern Territory development, both for his policing activities and his engagement in Darwin's cultural life. With his camera he created a valuable pictorial record of early Territory life. Many of Foelsche's images reveal a time and place no longer visible today. His life's work - the photographs together with his natural and cultural history collections and ethnographic writings have come to occupy and important place in the story of the Northern Territory.
Paul Foelsche: A Life's Work exhibition
As I've stated above, I found this exhibition to be an inappropriate and offensive whitewash. How can the findings of several historians be completely omitted, who say that he treated Aboriginal people horribly and was implicitly involved in the deaths of dozens or hundreds of Aboriginal people on the frontier? Reid has also found no evidence that his ethnography and knowledge of Aboriginal people was remarkable, in contrast to how this exhibition portrays him.

Yet there are subtle hints incorporated into the exhibition that suggest some of the aspects of Foelsche's life that I'd read about. The coffee table nestled in with the exhibition has relevant reading material sitting atop it, including the books by Tony Roberts and Gordon Reid. Sections of the exhibition text refer to the violence of the era that Foelsche was a part of. There are mentions of "punitive expeditions" that "sometimes went out to teach whole groups 'severe lessons'" and that "many deaths and the destruction of camps and possessions followed". Note though the careful wording that ascribes no agency to Foelsche or anyone else who is known to have led or organised such expeditions. The mention of "many deaths" doesn't even make it clear that those deaths were virtually all Aboriginal people.

Excerpt from the first panel in the exhibition
Another sinister and problematic aspect glossed over with neutral language describes how "Foelsche collected and supplied the South Australian Museum with skeletal remains". The way this is phrased dismisses the subsequent grief that the historical removals (i.e. thefts) of Aboriginal human remains causes many Aboriginal people today and fails to acknowledge what an abhorrent practice it was. On top of that, that some argue that "the skulls he studied were not merely collected by him" (Roberts 2009) makes this neutral portrayal of Foelsche's 'ethnographic studies' even more problematic.

Tony Roberts' raises a very important question when he asks:
Why does a river in the Gulf Country honour a man like Foelsche? ... Must we rub the noses of Territory Aboriginals in this dark history? They were treated as expendable and earmarked for discreetly achieved extermination. (2009)
Historical events cannot be viewed in isolation. They have contemporary manifestations. Aboriginal people are still coming to terms with what non-Indigenous people did to their ancestors, their languages and their cultures. Garrwa artist from Borroloola Nancy McDinny's recent painting depicts the "Story of Mayawagu", a man who resisted pastoralists in the 19th century and goes on to say:
In Mayawagu's country, called Karlarlakinda, there is a river called the Foelsche River... [Foelsche] was responsible for masterminding the massacres of hundreds of Aboriginal men, women and children, including Garrawa. We would like to change the name of the river and call it the Mayawagu River (in Ferrall and Green (eds.) 2013: 62).
The NT Library's exhibition Paul Foelsche: A Life's Work commemorates the life of someone who these days would quite likely be considered a war criminal. His "life's work" is presented in a blinkered and offensive way. It should not be allowed.

The commemorative exhibition Paul Foelsche: A Life's Work (1831-1914) is free and hosted by the Northern Territory Library, Parliament House, Darwin. It runs until March 23.

I should also note that the exhibition's curator kindly met with me and heard my concerns but I'll keep our amicable meeting off the record as it was an unofficial discussion. I mention it here just to note that I have also conveyed my views to the curator in person.


Ferrall, Charles & Felicity Green (eds.). 2013. Togart Contemporary Art Award 2013. Toga group: Darwin. Link: 

Reid, Gordon. 1990. A Picnic with the Natives: Aboriginal-European relations in the Northern Territory to 1910. Melbourne University Press: Melbourne.

Roberts, Tony. 2005. Frontier Justice: A history of the Gulf Country to 1900. University of Queensland Press: St. Lucia, Qld.

Roberts, Tony. 2009. "The Brutal Truth: What happened in the Gulf Country". The Monthly. 51. Link:

Wilson, Bill. 2000. A Force Apart? A history of the Northern Territory Police Force 1870-1926. PhD Thesis. Northern Territory University.

February 13, 2014

Northern Territory's draft Indigenous Education review (Part 1)

Last week, an NT-wide review into Indigenous Education took a big step forward when a draft report was released. Accompanying its release were a few media stories relaying that its author, Bruce Wilson, was recommending shutting down secondary schools in remote communities and sending everyone to boarding school. My reaction was 'what?!' and 'who is this Bruce Wilson?'. A bio of Bruce Wilson on a Victorian education website, it turns out, has this remarkable line written about him:
He often uses humour in his presentations to disguise the fact that he hasn't done any research.
I'll write more on Mr. Wilson in Part 2. In this post, I'd like to discuss a few aspects of the draft review.

When I actually started to read to the report rather than react to newspaper headlines, I remained distinctly unimpressed. If I was marking it as a university assignment, it might just pass. Maybe. Key references have been overlooked, vague conclusions drawn without strong evidence and a poor research methodology was used.

As an example of a vague, poorly thought through recommendation, Mr. Wilson mandates a phonemic awareness teaching program based on "the view that Indigenous children learn English in the way that other children learn English" (p.7). This is entirely confusing. The report acknowledges that in bush schools you sometimes have 100% of kids starting school without English, so how is it possible that they learn English like I did in the burbs of Brisbane. How does mandating an English phonemic awareness program result in bush kids magically learning English the same way that mainstream kids do? Here's a hypothetical scenario:

A grade one teacher is teaching the alphabet - specifically, the S sound - and holds up a flashcard with a big S on it drawn as a snake and tells the kids "S is for snake". This is a sensible way to teach phonics, vocab and literacy. If you're an English speaking kid that is. But if this was a bush school...

The problem is that traditional Aboriginal languages don’t have the S sound (they do however have plenty of sounds that English doesn't). How do the hundreds of kids who don’t use the S sound in their languages understand that that squiggly line on the flashcard is a graphic representation of a sound they don’t even use? Secondly, why would they link the reptile depicted on that picture with the string of sounds that sounds like ‘snake’? They have their own words for that thing: in Djambarrpuyŋu it’s bäpi, in Tiwi it’s taringa, in Warlpiri it’s warna, in Murrinh Patha it’s ku pangkuy, Arrernte it’s apme and so on. Notice how those words have nothing to do with the English S sound? On top of that, kids with hearing problems have an even harder time hearing sounds in languages they aren't fluent in.

This is just one example of where the report's recommendations are poorly devised and poorly researched. And yet Mr. Wilson likens his report to the 1999 Collins review (Learning Lessons: an independent review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory). I'm sorry, but Mr. Wilson's report is not of the same calibre. Where the Collins review has very clear and specific recommendations, Wilson's are vague. Where Collins' data gathering and research methodology was thorough and considered, Wilson's is poor and haphazard. 

A glaring flaw in the report is the virtual dismissal of the use of Indigenous languages in education and, in particular, bilingual education. Bilingual education is addressed in one measly paragraph on page 61. It is an incredible oversight that Wilson has not even looked at the 2011/2012 Federal Government inquiry 'Language Learning in Indigenous Communities' which received over 150 submissions and toured the country, investigating among other things "measures to improve education outcomes in communities where English is a second language". The inquiry found that using Indigenous languages in the early years of education is linked to improved attendance and community engagement. They found that achieving English competency is improved by teaching in Indigenous languages in the early years of school and they found convincing evidence in support of bilingual education. How can this review ignore such a recent, thorough and incredibly relevant inquiry and brush aside the idea of bilingual education in one dismissive paragraph? (Note: the Our Land, Our Languages report that came out of the Federal inquiry is listed in the Wilson's bibliography but not cited anywhere in the report). 

This leads me to a final and important point: this report does not really at any stage suggest that Aboriginal kids’ knowledge and the things they learn at home are of any value whatsoever. That is incredibly insulting. There are 5-year-old Aboriginal students who instinctively know their cardinal directions better than most non-Indigenous adults. There are Aboriginal kids who can list their kin relationship to hundreds of individuals. They have biological and ecological knowledge about things that few white people are aware of. Their parents and grandparents lived through historical events that urban students read about in textbooks. They have grandparents with artworks hanging in state and national galleries. And they speak some of the most interesting and unique languages in the entire world. None of this is acknowledged and no importance is ascribed to it. By ignoring Indigenous knowledge and skills the report ignores a fundamental pedagogical principle that you start with students' strengths and what they know and then move them into what they don’t know.

What Mr. Wilson has chosen to do instead is adhere to a deficit model. Pointing out everything that is wrong with Aboriginal kids and supporting his findings with flawed indices like the AEDI and flawed testing models like NAPLAN. In my view, indulging in this deficit discourse will only succeed in making many Aboriginal people switch off. Do they really want their own knowledge to be insultingly ignored or have their problems and flaws pointed out, yet again. The report recommends greater community engagement but the adherence to a deficit discourse will likely only serve to impede the engagement of Aboriginal people, negatively affect attendance and discourage Aboriginal educators. 

People took notice of the Collins report because the authors had thoughtfully gathered information and carefully considered what Aboriginal parents and educators told them. This one hasn’t. The Collins report valued Aboriginal knowledge and Aboriginal people and what they think. This one doesn’t. What it does is start with a deficit view of Aboriginal people and knowledge, imposes some poorly researched and not-well-supported ideas and then pads out 110 pages that amount to little more than ‘teach them the 3Rs and then send them off to boarding school’.

Forgive me, but I am rather skeptical that such a mediocre report will bring about any serious improvement to Indigenous education in the Northern Territory.


I will be posting a Part 2 on this topic which discusses the public meeting Mr. Wilson held in Katherine to discuss the review.

Edit: I forgot to add that you can send in a submission relating to this draft report. Details are here: Submissions deadline is March 9. 

January 29, 2014

Linguists supporting communities: We did it well before. Did we lose our way?

The other day a discussion topic came through via email about 'supporting community researchers in the field'. The discussion topic was introduced as:
The ways that linguists work with communities is starting to change. The idea of doing research on or in a community is shifting to doing research with the community. The movement towards community-based and participatory fieldwork models in Linguistics mirrors shifts in other disciplines such as health research.
Okay, I know the above was just a quick way to introduce the topic but it tapped into a bigger issue and I felt the need to write the following... *steps up on to soapbox* 

Disclaimer: I'm not criticising the many of us who do linguistic fieldwork and try our best (often with great success) to increase local involvement, exchange skills and knowledge and so on. Nor am I criticising the organisations who do deliver great training and do great community-based work. Nor am I implying that this is a redundant topic of discussion - the more this is talked about the better. I simply want to add to the discussion (albeit in a bit of a provocative way) and offer some discussion of where we're at with non-Indigenous linguists working on Aboriginal and Islander languages.

I want to delve further into the statement that "the ways that linguists work with communities is starting to change". While this may be true on a global scale, I argue that in the Australian context we have actually been going backwards for the past 20-30 years in regard to community development and community-based aspects of linguistic work. (The great work of RNLD is a notable exception). The recent discussion topic listed a bunch of references describing how to do collaborative research in community, but they were from international scholars. Let's not forget that in the 70s, 80s and 90s, Australian linguistics was a world leader and, I'd say, well ahead of where we are now in terms of community development, training and engagement. I don't think it's a case of things "starting to change" in a new direction. I think it's a case of 'been there, done that', and we've lost our way a bit and how do we get it back. I'm referring here to precedents like the School of Australian Linguistics (SAL) that started in the 1970s in what later evolved to become Batchelor Institute. They pioneered providing linguistic training to speakers of Aboriginal and TSI languages (see Black and Breen 2001). Wasn't it SAL's fantastic work that provided skilled Aboriginal staff who were the backbone to the NT's bilingual schools which at one stage numbered over 20? And one of SAL's star students was the author of the *only* peer-reviewed linguistics article ever written *in* an Australian language (see Bani 1987). Institutions like bilingual education and SAL/Batchelor Institute were marvels in terms of linguistics training and community development for Aboriginal and Islander people and their languages compared to what we have today. They also laid the foundation for the many community controlled language centres that popped up around Australia. Then we had the groundbreaking 1984 statement of the Linguistic Rights of Aboriginal and Islander Communities by the Australian Linguistic Society (taking a stab in the dark, my guess is that many young linguists don't even know this statement exists). Then there's David Wilkins' groundbreaking article on "Linguistic Research under Aboriginal Control" (1992). David was one of a bunch of pioneering linguists who in that era were, in my view, leaps and bounds ahead of the efforts that most linguists make today to give primacy to Aboriginal people in our research. Others that spring to mind are Jean Harkins (1994) and Diana Eades' fabulous PhD research done under the supervision of Michael Williams (1983). All this work exemplifies Australians leading the way globally and really put Aboriginal and Islander people in the co-pilot seat when it came to linguistic research. But slowly, a lot of it this has been in decline in recent decades and has declined under our watch. Bilingual programs have been largely abandoned. Batchelor Institute's language and linguistics section is a shadow of its former self. A number of Language Centres have become dysfunctional and/or declined. And through these declines, we have failed to compensate with equivalent new programs or institutions nor have we built up the engagement of Aboriginal and Islander linguists with our universities. I am skeptical that a majority of contemporary linguists are aware of AIATSIS's Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Communities, let alone adhere to them. If we did all follow AIATSIS' guidelines, then we would already be engaging better with community members we work with in the field and the need to even discuss this topic would be diminished.

I am being deliberately provocative here, but I think there's a point to be made that we don't need to look internationally for leadership in how to better do collaboration, community development and training in our work as linguists. I don't think we need to mirror what other disciplines do in terms of collaborative research. We paved the way! We've already proven historically that we can do it. I think what we should be about is trying to regain what we've lost in the past 20-30 years. Our professional body, the ALS, produces an excellent academic journal and hosts a great national annual conference but does next to nothing in terms of advocacy. Why do there seem to be more emerging and early career linguists gluing themselves to universities rather than getting out there and working for language centres, training and working in education, working for interpreting services, being content to work on collaborative community projects? (There are plenty of exceptions to this, I acknowledge that). Why do those that devote large chunks of their work to community pursuits seem to often be on the fringe of linguistics in Australia? The Joyce Hudsons, the David Wilkinses, the Rob Amerys, the Christina Eiras, the Anna Ashs and Amanda Lissarragues, the MaryAnn Gales, the John Hobsons, the Melanie Wilkinsons, the Jenny Greens, the Murray Gardes and RNLD's own Margaret Florey and so on... These guys are some of my heroes and represent best practice when it comes to non-Indigenous linguists doing collaborative linguistics in Aboriginal communities, but personally I don't think they get the recognition they deserve from our linguistics community.

Don't get me wrong, I love the work that linguists do in Australia in relation to Australian languages in all the diverse ways that we do it. And there are so many trailblazers and people doing great stuff around Australia right now. To know how to support community researchers and do community development, we don't need to look abroad or to other fields. We can look back at what was happening in Australian linguistics before, and also better recognise and learn from those who already do this stuff well and use that as a benchmark for where we should be. 

[/rant] *gets off soapbox* Thanks for listening.


AIATSIS. 2012. Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies. Canberra: AIATSIS.

Bani, Ephraim. 1987. 'Garka a ipika: masculine and feminine grammatical gender in Kala Lagaw Ya'. Australian Journal of Linguistics. 7(2): 189-201.

Black, Paul and Gavan Breen. 2001. 'The School of Australian Linguistics'. In Forty Years On: Ken Hale and Australian Languages. Eds: Jane Simpson et al. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. 161-178.

Eades, Diana. 1983. English as an Aboriginal Language in Southeast Queensland. PhD thesis: University of Queensland.

Harkins, Jean. 1994. Bridging Two Worlds: Aboriginal English and cross-cultural understanding. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Wilkins, David. 1992. 'Linguistic Research under Aboriginal Control: A personal account of fieldwork in Central Australia'. Australian Journal of Linguistics. 12:171-200.

January 21, 2014

How to make this planet a bit cooler? (Ambiguity intended!)

Half of Australia, including me, was stuck in a mega-heatwave last week. It was really hot. Like, really hot. I just kept thinking that it's global warming, it's the way of the future and that we're bringing this upon ourselves. But I also kept thinking of all the ways we can use less energy and carbon. I know our individual contributions will barely make a difference, but you gotta start somewhere. Here's what I came up with (I already try to do lots of these, but of course lapse very easily):

- Waste less food.
- Drink tap water.
- Turn more lights off.
- Use a little car instead of a big car.
- Use a scooter instead of a car.
- Use a bike instead of a powered vehicle.
- Walk.
- Travel in groups more.
- Use public transport more.
- Travel less.
- Go on holidays to nearby destinations. (Domestic travel FTW!)
- Use the aircon less.
- Don't turn the aircon down too low
- Drive with the windows down instead of with aircon on.
- Turn appliances and devices you hardly use right off instead of on standby.
- Choose products with less packaging.
- Buy bigger quantities so you use less packaging.
- Drink coffee out of china rather than disposable cups.
- Shut down you computer when you’re not using it.
- Turn the monitor off too.
- Take shorter showers.
- Don’t wash your clothes in hot water.
- Don’t use clothes dryers.
- Look into getting solar power.
- Get solar power.
- Make solar power more of a thing.
- Have fewer kids.
- Send your kids to the local school.
- Make them walk or ride to school.
- Consume less.
- Buy less crap.
- Buy stuff that lasts.
- Buy the most energy efficient appliances.
- Look at advertising less.
- Avoid products with planned obsolescence.
- Avoid waste at work too.
- Use the stairs instead of the lift.
- Meet over phone or Skype rather than travel to meet face-to-face.
- Say no to Nespresso and those other wasteful coffee pod things.
- Plant a tree.
- Plant lots of trees.
- Go plant some trees in a random bit of vacant land.
- Be an environmental vandal (in a good way I mean... like get stuff to grow everywhere).

What do you reckon of my random collection of ideas? How much do you even think about this stuff. Please add your own suggestions. I’d be really happy for more ideas on how to be carbon-conscious.

December 23, 2013

Roper Kriol video trilogy

I've just finished a little trilogy of videos on Roper Kriol - more specifically on a few words in Roper Kriol that don't come from English. I really like these little videos, although I'm a total novice at video editing (please offers suggestions on how to improve them next time!). Each one describes three words that all Kriol speakers in Ngukurr know, but English speakers wouldn't recognise at all. The two guys on the videos, Kamahl and Dwayne, are just brilliant. They were great at describing and acting out these words and it was all done totally spur-of-the-moment. The poor quality is because I recorded them quickly on my iPhone but luckily Dwayne was using my ZoomH2 digital recorder so at least the sound quality is pretty good. And the words themselves I find really interesting (more on that below). I hope you enjoy the vids:

Here's part 1, featuring the words moi, gubarl and ngum:

Part 2 features the words ngarra, waranga and dinggal-dinggal:

And Part 3, which I only edited together yesterday, describes the words bagai, ngaja and burdurdup:

I like these videos because Dwayne and Kamahl describe words that are great examples of substrate lexical influence on Kriol. (That is, the influence that local languages have on the lexicon (vocabulary) of Roper Kriol). See, the vast majority of words in Kriol are based on English. Sometimes Kriol words have basically the same meaning as their English counterpart: wok (walk), lau (allow), kikad (keycard). Sometimes the Kriol meaning is different, either because the word keeps a distinctive meaning found in local languages (this process is called relexification), resulting in words like bingga (from finger, but means fingers+hand), dedi (from daddy, but means father+father's brothers) and smokim (from smoke 'im, but refers to the ceremonial use of smoke to cleanse a person or area after someone has died). Or sometimes English-based Kriol words are just words for things that English speakers use other words for, like pokipain (from porcupine) for echidna or aligida (from alligator) for saltwater crocodile.

Then there are a bunch of words that Kriol speakers in Ngukurr use that have nothing to do with English. Which is what I'm particularly interested in. In my thesis, I'm devoting a section to describing them in detail. It's been fascinating learning about them and finding out just how many there are (and I'm still learning new ones every time I go to Ngukurr!). Because they're not based on English, a lot of them are words that I learned late in the process of learning Kriol and they were a real surprise to me. As an English-speaking Kriol learner, English-based words are learned more quickly because of their familiarity. Whereas for non-English based words, there is no cognitive attachment, so they become salient later in language acquisition processes. When I started to ask people in Ngukurr about these words it was a revelation - there were so many I'd never heard before! And many with lovely specialised and/or culturally-relevant or culturally-specific meanings. And on the academic side, it was exciting because other linguists who'd studied Kriol had been missing some of them too, so I felt like I was learning a few things that other Munanga hadn't.

But I also like these words (and videos) because I had a great time learning about them from many Kriol speakers in Ngukurr. Dwayne and Kamahl in particular were really helpful and great to work with. I have to give them a massive shout-out and heartfelt thanks. The recordings I made with them are so lively and entertaining, just like these videos. I hope that I haven't embarrassed them too much by putting them on YouTube and maybe we can do some more next year!

November 28, 2013

I see the blood on the leaves

I'm reading about so many foul and disgusting things that white people did to Aboriginal people when they first arrived in the Northern Territory.

It's kinda unbearable and makes it starkly clear that white Australia has blood on their hands.

And the names that come up in the history books! The one I'm most surprised at is former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer's grandfather, Sir John Downer, who was premier of South Australia and a lawyer (and has a suburb in Canberra named after him). John Downer "played an active role" when "successive South Australian governments masterminded, condoned, or concealed the violent dispossession and oppression of Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory to 1910" (Roberts 2009: 22). And don't be fooled - the violence and atrocities that white people carried out on the frontier is not something buried. It's in government reports, newspapers, memoirs and diaries, letters of officials, the research of many historians and in the oral histories of Aboriginal people. John Downer and other government officials could not have been ignorant of what was happening.

And it wasn't just as a politician that John Downer played a role this history. As a lawyer, he defended William Willshire, who stood trial for the murder of two Aboriginal men, shot while they slept. Willshire who, after the murders, "then had breakfast before burning the bodies a short distance away - all of this in front of witnesses" (Roberts 2005: 134) was acquitted and returned to police work in the Victoria River District after his acquittal. There is nothing about Willshire's legacy that indicates he didn't commit atrocities. Even his official biography points out his "boastful sadism", "racial triumphalism" and that "he was contemptuous of Aboriginal lives and culture, and condoned female exploitation" (Mulvaney 1990).

There's so much more to say about all of this but I just don't know where or how to start. Or where to stop.



Mulvaney, D. J. (1990) 'Willshire, William Henry (1852–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 November 2013.

Roberts, T. (2005). Frontier justice: A history of the Gulf country to 1900. St. Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press.

Roberts, T. (2009). Black-White Relations in the Gulf Country to 1950. Blackheath History Forum, 29 August 2009:, accessed 28 November 2013.