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Yolŋu stories live on in text

By Louise Errington

From left: CDU Northern Institute Research Fellow Dr Anthea Nicholls and Yambal Durrurrŋa From left: CDU Northern Institute Research Fellow Dr Anthea Nicholls and Yambal Durrurrŋa

A book that records the language and stories of Yolŋu elders of a remote Northern Territory community, Ramingining, has been launched at a local school.

CDU’s Northern Institute Research Fellow Dr Anthea Nicholls worked alongside Ramingining Indigenous elder Yambal Durrurrŋa to create the book, entitled “Narrakuŋ Dhäwu”, which aims to ensure stories from Arnhem Land are preserved for future generations.

Dr Nicholls said the project started after Yambal told her how young people from his community were not speaking the language as they did in his younger years, and that he was concerned by how the language was changing.

“Indigenous Australians have always been multilingual, however, linguistic diversity is being lost, and that is quite regrettable,” Dr Nicholls said.

“Yambal has witnessed the deterioration of his traditional language throughout his lifetime, and wanted to write the book in order to help keep it alive.”

In a linguistic preservation project spanning six years, Yambal recorded his stories in both Yolŋu Matha and English with Dr Nicholls' support.

The book launch was held at a weekly Ramingining School assembly, with many community members attending the event. Two of Yambal's grandchildren read stories from the book, in both the Yolŋu Matha and English languages.

“Yambal was very proud of his grandchildren, as were their Yolŋu and non-Indigenous teachers,” Dr Nicholls said.

“We are hoping that this book will be the first in a series in which Ramingining elders tell their stories to contribute to the maintenance of their languages and culture.”

The book is on sale through Ramingining CEC and Bula'bula Arts. Proceeds will go towards a literacy prize for students at the school.