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Gajirrabeng – ‘Boorrb-goo jemang joodi-joodib ngalamberrmi?’: ‘Have you finished writing quickly on the paper?’

Landing page image for the collection

Daisy Jandoony calling out to the rainbow snake at Goomig – Cave Springs. Landing page image for the collection “Gajirrabeng – ‘Boorrb-goo jemang joodi-joodib ngalamberrmi?’: ‘Have you finished writing quickly on the paper?”. Click on image to access collection.


Language Gajirrabeng
Depositor Frances Kofod, Knut Olawsky
Affiliation Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring
Location Australia
Collection ID 0573
Grant ID MDP0384
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This archive of Gajirrabeng language materials secures data digitised from audio and Super VHS video tapes recorded between 1971 and 2010. It also includes audio files made originally as DAT recordings. The video files include some fluent Gajirrabeng but are also ethnographically important as they illustrate many aspects of traditional life. The bulk of the data was recorded from three fluent speakers, Daisy Jandoony, Gwanbany Paddy Carlton and Mignonette Jamin. There are a few comments from other speakers on some recordings.

The data was mostly recorded by Frances Kofod. Some material from 2000 to 2010 was recorded at Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring, Kununurra by Gajirrabeng language worker Kim Aldus and linguist Keeley Palmer with the assistance of Julie Bilyminga, grand-daughter of Daisy Jandoony and Jimmy Paddy Moodi, son of Gwanbany Paddy Carlton.

There are 95 hours 9 mins of audio files and 4 hours 10mins of video. The collection also includes 45 ELAN files with corresponding Toolbox .txt files and an additional 16 .txt files. Also included are .pdf versions of the Toolbox .lex files with 2,832 items in the Gajirrabeng.lex file and 1,360 items in the Gajverb.lex file. 40 Photographs are included. The cover photo shows Daisy Jandoony speaking to the rainbow snake that lives in the water at Goomig – Cave Springs.


Group represented

People who spoke Gajirrabeng language and the closely related dialect Wardanybeng once lived in country straddling what is now the border of the Northern Territory and the East Kimberley in North Western Australian. Their lands were to the north of country belonging to speakers of the related languages Miriwoong and Gija. Speakers of Jaminjung lived to the east and Doolboong, Ganyayi and Bogayi people lived along the sea coast to the north-west. Europeans first arrived in Gajirrabeng peoples’ country during the 1880s after an expedition to the East Kimberley by explorer Alexander Forrest in 1879 reported the existence of ‘large tracts of unoccupied pastoral land.’ Subsequently pastoralists brought huge herds of cattle overland from Queensland and the town of Wyndham was set up in 1886.

The result for the Aboriginal population was devastating. Cattle stations named Carlton Hill, Ningbingi, Legune, Newry, Ivanhoe, Argyle Downs, Bullo River and Auvergne were set up in land belonging to the Gajirrabeng and their neighbours. The Gajirrabeng were particularly badly affected by the arrival of the invaders, with many people massacred. This is described by Grant Ngabij, husband of speaker Daisy Jandoony, in My Country of the Pelican Dreaming: The Life of an Australian Aborigine of the Gadjerong, Grant Ngabidj, 1904-1977 as Told to Bruce Shaw (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1981).

Most of the Gajirrabeng, Miriwoong and Gija populations who survived the massacre and disease brought by the invasion of their lands lived on cattle stations in very poor conditions with only food and clothing provided by the invading white station owners. The three main speakers whose language recordings are archived here lived mostly on Carlton Hill, Ningbingi, Legune, Newry and Bullo River Stations.

Aboriginal people in Australia were not classified as citizens or counted in the census as residents before 1967, when a referendum changed the Australian Constitution making all citizens. About the same time, legislation was passed obliging station owners to pay Aboriginal stockmen equal wages. This resulted in most people who had still been living in their own country, albeit in semi-slavery, being forced to leave the stations and become fringe dwellers in the towns.

The East Kimberley town of Wyndham was set up as a port in 1886, but the now larger East Kimberley town Kununurra was not built until the early 1960s when two dams were built on the Ord River, flooding much of the land belonging to Miriwoong people on Ivanhoe and Argyle Stations.

In 1971 when Frances Kofod first arrived to record language, most of the Miriwoong people who had been living on surrounding stations had been thrown off them and were living as fringe dwellers at the Mirima reserve. That year Aboriginal people were still living at Carlton Hill station to the north of Kununurra. Kununurra is in Miriwoong country and Carlton Hill to the north is on the borders of Miriwoong and Gajirrabeng country. Kofod first met Daisy Jandoony, one of the last speakers of Gajirrabeng, during a visit to Carlton Hill with Miriwoong speakers. Jandoony heard that Kofod was in the Kimberley to record language and requested that her language be recorded. By 1972 when Kofod next visited, Jandoony, along with the other Aboriginal people who had been living on Carlton, had moved to the Mirima reserve in Kununurra. Today, most descendants of the Gajirrabeng live in Kununurra in Miriwoong country.

Gajirrabeng is frequently referred to by the Miriwoong name for the language, ‘Gajirrawoong’. This is often mispronounced as ‘Gajerrong’. During the 1990s and 2000s, Native Title over land belonging to Miriwoong and Gajirrabeng people was applied for and granted using the language names with spelling ‘Miriuwung’ and ‘Gajerrong’. This resulted in the establishment of an organisation called ‘Yawoorroong Miriuwung and Gajerrong Yirrgeb Noong Dawang’ or ‘MGCorp’ to manage Native Title issues. Many people today in Kununurra refer to ‘M and G’ without realising that the ‘G’ stands for a separate language.

After Gajirrabeng and Miriwoong people moved from the stations to the Mirima Reserve they set up the Mirima Council to manage community issues. Many members of the Mirima Council expressed concern about the loss of their language and culture. During 1987 and 1988 Kofod assisted them in obtaining funding to help set up Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre (MDWg in Kununurra in 1989. Originally Mirima Council members thought that MDWg would work with the Gajirrabeng language as well as Miriwoong. However Kununurra is in Miriwoong country and the majority of the stakeholders are Miriwoong. This meant that most of the work done has been Miriwoong language support.

During the early years of MDWg, Jandoony continued to request that her stories and language should be recorded but only small amounts of these recordings were properly transcribed. In the early 2000s MDWg did a project that saw a lot more recordings made with two other Gajirrabeng speakers: Gwanbany Paddy Carlton and Mignonette Jamin. Some of these were transcribed and a small dictionary was created for community distribution. Prior to this ELDP-funded project many earlier audio recordings were still waiting digitisation, transcription and annotation. None of the recordings had been annotated in the more recent language documentation software ELAN.

The ELDP project provided an opportunity for a substantial corpus of Gajirrabeng data to be properly documented while there were still speakers with a hearing knowledge of the language. A number of descendants of the fluent Gajirrabeng speakers whose recordings form this archive are employed as language workers at Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language and Culture Centre in Kununurra.

The descendants of the speakers and their countrymen can access the data through the Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring archive and draw on it for community knowledge and revival projects.


Language information

Gajirrabeng is a member of the Jarragan language family from the East Kimberley of Western Australia. Other Jarragan language family members are Miriwoong and Gija. Wardanybeng, another dialect of Gajirrabeng, is no longer spoken. However a small amount of Wardanybeng data was recorded by Gwanbany Paddy Carlton when recording Gajirrabeng and is included with this collection.

Gajirrabeng peoples’ country was traditionally to the north of Miriwoong in the East Kimberley, Western Australia and across the state border in the Northern Territory.

There are no living fluent speakers of Gajirrabeng. There are a few elderly partial speakers. Some younger descendants of the elders whose recordings are archived in this collection have a hearing knowledge of the language.

The ISO639-3 is erroneously lists the language name as Gadjerrawang while Gajirrabeng is the correct name used by descendants of this ethnic group in their own language.

The neighbouring Miriwoong people, on whose lands the Gajirrabeng people now largely live, use the Miriwoong name Gajirrawoong or a mis-pronunciation, Gajerrong for this language. The Gajirrabeng name for the Miriwoong is the Miribeng.

These archive files include some language comments from speakers of Miriwoong and Jaminjung, the next language East. All speakers use Kimberley Kriol, the local Lingua Franca as a means of translation and communication.


Special characteristics

There are a number of interesting narratives including personal stories as well as dreaming stories.

Of particular note is the horrific story on T0003, of the brutal treatment by the station manager at Ningbingi of Jandoony and her friend after the friend lost her baby. This person was reported by Jandoony’s husband Grant Ngabij in ‘My Country of the Pelican Dreaming’ as a major perpetrator of massacres of Gajirrabeng people after the arrival of Europeans. Many people of Gajirrabeng and Miriwoong descent have been asking for a long time that a road leading from Kununurra to Carlton Hill that is named after this brutal murderer should be re-named. This has still not happened as of 2020.

The collection includes several wonderful dreaming stories and ghost stories e.g. T0002, T0004, T0005. There is no other record of the stories from the coastal area north of Kununurra that was once the home of the Doolboong people whose language is no longer spoken. Jandoony heard these stories from a Doolboong woman named Darrng, mother of Albert Wajaja and grandmother of Gajirrabeng language worker Kim Aldus when they lived and worked at Ningbingi and walked in the country via the saltwater between Ningbingi and Legune.

Special chanting language representing the speech of the ghost of a man’s dead sister heard in T0004 has never been noted before in any other Jarragan language recording. There are chants or songs where people cannot translate frozen archaic forms, but this is mostly understandable Gajirrabeng speech, semi-sung. This chanting voice represented the fact that it is the spirit of the sister speaking. In the same long narrative recording the man and a ‘real’ ghost swear at each other in normal voices. The semi-sung chant is only applied to the spirit of the deceased relation of the man.

The short video M054 of Daisy Jandoony speaking Gajirrabeng and Kriol while demonstrating traditional water games with her daughter Doris Bilyminga, Ruby Thoorrbeliny, and Yimbirr Barbara is the only record we have of this traditional game.

Session T0414 Includes some vocabulary and sentences from the neighbouring dialect, Wardanybeng, that is no longer spoken. Gwanbany Paddy Carlton speaks and demonstrates the exaggerated falling and rising intonation that he identified as characteristic of that language.


Collection contents

There are 145 bundles in this collection.

130 bundles include 164 .wav files with a total of 95 hours 9 minutes. Some of these files were digitised from Audio cassette by Paradisec and some were digital originals recorded on a DAT recorder. The recordings were made with three main Gajirrabeng speakers, Daisy Jandoony, Gwanbany Paddy Carlton and Mignonette Jamin with a few words and sentences from six others. A number of other participants can be heard commenting in neighbouring Miriwoong and Jaminjung languages. These are included as actors in the metadata but not counted as Gajirrabeng speakers. All speakers can also be heard speaking Kimberley Kriol, the Lingua Franca of the area.

There are 43 ELAN (.eaf) files representing 17 hours of transcription of audio files that has been inter-linearised in Toolbox and re-exported to ELAN. The corresponding .txt files are also included. This data includes elicitation, narrative and sentences volunteered or dictated by speakers.

A further 16 .txt files with interlinearised transcriptions of 13 hours of audio are also included. These include elicitation, information volunteered by speakers and a little narrative.

There are 14 bundles with 19 .mp4 video files. Most of these were digitised from Super VHS by Paradisec. 3 bundles include new footage of checking interviews recorded at Juniper Gerdewoonem Aged Care, a brief demonstration of artefact use and a bush trip to Ningbingi in Gajirrabeng country to look for ‘thelabeng’ – ‘long yam’. An additional 6 .wav files corresponding exactly to 6 of the .mp4 files have been included. These were created to enable easier transcription in ELAN. Two of these were completed and are included with the collection as .eaf and .txt files. ELAN transcription of the remainder is planned. M054-Gajirrabeng-ed.wav, M057.wav, M062-Saltwater.wav, M063-Gaj.wav, M064-Gaj.wav, M201.wav

The video files include some fluent Gajirrabeng but are also ethnographically important as they illustrate many aspects of traditional life.

There is one bundle that contains the five Toolbox .lex files with five corresponding .pdf export files of the lexicon created when processing the ELAN transcriptions.

There are also 40 .jpg photographs that are linked to bundles where speakers comment on the photographs. Note that 4 of these photographs include paintings by Gwanbany Paddy Carlton. These images may not be reproduced without seeking permission from and payment of copyright fees to the artist’s estate. They are included here because the artist is talking about them in Gajirrabeng.

Bundle T0414 Includes some vocabulary and sentences from the neighbouring dialect, Wardanybeng, that is no longer spoken. The speaker demonstrates the exaggerated falling and rising intonation that he identified as characteristic of that language.

The data includes the only sentence in the now extinct Doolboong language as remembered by Daisy Jandoony – see T0404.

ELAN transcriptions and interlinearisations will continue to be added as they are processed.


Collection history

The oldest data for this collection was recorded in 1971 – 72 by Frances Kofod during fieldwork in Kununurra, WA to record the related language Miriwoong. This was at the request of Daisy Jandoony. Further data was recorded by Frances Kofod at Jandoony’s request during a visit to Kununurra in 1986 and on weekends in 1987 – 88 when Kofod was working with Gija people to the south.

Further data was recorded by Frances Kofod after the opening of Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring between 1989 and 2010 when the last fluent speaker Mignonette Jamin passed away.

Dictionary elicitation sessions were conducted with Gwanbany Paddy Carlton and Mignonette Jamin at Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring between 2004 and 2006 by Frances Kofod and Keeley Palmer, with the help of Gajirrabeng language workers Kim Aldus and Julie Bilminga. A preliminary dictionary was produced in 2007 using Toolbox.

As part of this Gajirrabeng digitisation, transcription and analysis project, 70 audio and 15 VHS video cassettes dating from 1971 to 2001 were digitised by Paradisec in late 2018. From 2018 to early 2020 Frances Kofod worked on transcription, translation, checking and interlinearisation and updating and expansion of the Toolbox lexicon. Most checking was done with Julie Bilyminga, grand-daughter of original speaker Daisy Jandoony. Jimmy Paddy Moodi, son of Gwanbany Paddy Carlton, who is employed as a language worker at Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring provided cultural advice as well as some checking.


Other Information

While the materials archived here are placed on open access for registered users, the narratives remain copyright to the descendants of the story tellers. Quotation for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review is allowed. Publication of complete narratives without consultation with the copyright owners is not permitted.

There is a lot of Kimberley Kriol in many of the recordings. When it is just one or two words in an otherwise Gajirrabeng utterance it has been glossed and marked as Kriol. When the text is predominantly Kriol it has been transcribed in a separate ELAN line marked \r (from the old SIL code “Regional”). The Kriol transcription is very inconsistent in orthography. There are conflicting Kriol orthography systems in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Sometimes when writing for the general public, spelling that is closer to the English from which it has been derived seems more appropriate. The Kriol from the 1971-72 and 1987 to 1991 sessions may be of particular interest to students of Kimberley Kriol.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Kofod, Frances. 2020. Boorrb-goo jemang joodi-joodib ngalamberrmi: ‘Have you finished writing quickly on the paper?. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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