Language Resources for Mount Isa and North West Queensland

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The Information Guide has been developed to support individuals and communities in their research into the Aboriginal languages of Mount Isa and north west Queensland. It complements a community language workshop held in Mount Isa in June 2010.

There exists a range of language materials, including recordings on the languages of Mt Isa and Gulf region; however the majority of work was undertaken prior to the 1970s and there is an absence of recent linguistic work in the area. However, there has been some ongoing language activity in terms of community-based projects.

Kalkadoon also referred to as Kalkatunga has long been recognised as the main language group of Mt Isa – the region also has several neighbouring groups; some of these regional groups have similar or related languages. This is indicative of their interaction with each other for trading, social and ceremonial activities; it is acknowledged that this interaction transcends the contemporary state borders of Queensland and Northern Territory. There still exists a regular movement from Mt Isa to Doomadgee to Lake Nash (NT) as well as crossborder activity in the Gulf region, notably around Borroloola.

Languages in the region include:

Gulf Region

  • Borroloola and NT border region – Binbinga, Yanuwa, Mara, Waanyi (Ganalanja or Nicholson River), Garrawa, Gunindiri
  • Mornington Island – Lardil
  • Bentinck Island – Gayardilt
  • Burketown – Ganggalida, Gananggalinda, Mingin, Kukatj
  • Normanton – Kuthant, Kurtijar, Koknar, Takalak, Agwamin, Uanga
  • Mount Isa – Kalkatunga/Kalkadoon, Yalarrnga/Yulluna, Yanda, Guwa, Pitta-Pitta, Wakabunga, Nguburinji
  • Cloncurry – Mitakoodi
  • Richmond – Mbara, Wanamarra
  • Julia Creek – Jgawun, Mayi-Kulan

Eyre Region

  • Hughenden – Yirandali

Desert Region

  • Wambaya, Alawa, Ngandji, Wakaya, Bularnu, Waluwarra

The traditional landscape changed dramatically with the settlement of the Mt Isa/Gulf region in the late 1880-1900s period as the pastoral and mining expansion spread to the northwest. Those Aboriginals that survived the frontier conflict of this time were pushed to the fringe of society in town camps and moved to missions such as Deebing Creek (via Ipswich) and Taroom in Southern Queensland and later Yarrabah and Palm Island. There is evidence that many local Aboriginals remained in the area providing the workforce for cattle properties.

Languages today

Mount Isa today has an active Aboriginal population comprising descendants of local groups as well as groups drawn from the surrounding regions, notably the Gulf communities as well as Western centres such as Camooweal, Dajarra and Boulia. Many of these people have moved to Mt Isa for economic reasons as rural centres decline; others have relocated due to health needs; however they still maintain familial and cultural links back to country. Several regional centres still have language speakers to support community language revival activities.


There are reference materials for Mt Isa and north west Queensland located at The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), Canberra – this material may include sound recordings, as well as vocabulary and word lists. AIATSIS has an online catalogue:

AIATSIS Language and People Bibliographies

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra has produced PDF versions of Language and People Bibliographies for a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. The Select Bibliographies provide a list of materials held by AIATSIS relating to specific languages and peoples, including those from the Mount Isa and North West Queensland.

A full list of these can be found at – the Mount Isa area languages have been grouped
under their respective names, e.g.

The following list of print resources and other materials are useful starting points for language activities in schools, communities or public libraries – these items are held at State Library of Queensland (SLQ), while further reference materials may be found in local/regional public libraries. Out-of-print materials may not be readily available and held in collecting institutions such as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (Canberra).

Linguistic/Language Resources in SLQ Collections

This is only a selection from the SLQ Collections – for a comprehensive listing of print and electronic materials [books, journals, manuscripts, videos, images, sound recordings and items from digital collections, etc.] use the OneSearch facility:

Blake, B.J. (1967) A brief description of the Kalkatungu language. Pacific Linguistics Canberra. GSC 499.15 1967
Blake, B.J. (1979b) “Pitta-Pitta”. In Dixon, R. M. W. & Blake, B. (Eds), The handbook of Australian languages 1, 182-242. Canberra: ANU Press and Amsterdam: John Benjamins. G 499.15 1979
Blake, B.J. (1988) ‘Redefining Pama-Nyungan: towards the prehistory of Australian languages’ in N Evans and S Johnson (eds) Aboriginal Linguistics 1:1-90. UNE Department of Linguistics Armidale, NSW. J 499.15 ABO
Blake, B. and Breen, J. G. (2007) An illustrated dictionary of Yulluna by domains. Yulluna Land Council and James Cook University: Mount Isa. J 499.51 ILL
Breen, J.G. (1976) ‘Warluwara and Bularnu’ in R. M. W. Dixon (ed.) Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages, Linguistic Series No. 22, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. pp. 250-257, 331-335, 586-590. G 499.15 1976Breen, J.G. (1981) The Mayi Languages of the Queensland Gulf Country. Canberra:Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Press. J 499.15 bre
Breen, J.G. (1990) Salvage Studies of Western Queensland Aboriginal Languages. Australia Pacific Linguistics Canberra. J 499.15 bre
Breen, J.G. (2003) 'Wanyi and Garrwa comparative data' in N Evans (ed.) The non-Pama-Nyungan languages of northern Australia. Pacific Linguistics: Canberra. J 499.15 NON
Breen, J. G. and Blake, B. (2007) The grammar of Yalarnnga: a language of western Queensland. Pacific Linguistics: Canberra. J 499.152 BRE
Chadwick, N. (1971) ‘Ngarndji Wordlist and Phonological Key’ in Papers on the Languages of Australian Aboriginals. Australian Aboriginal Studies 38. AIAS Canberra:34-45. SER 499.15
Curr, E. M. (1887) The Australian Race: its origins, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent. John Ferres Government Printer: Melbourne. RBF 572.994 cur
Evans, N. (1992) Kayardild dictionary and thesaurus: a vocabulary of the language of the Bentinck Islanders, north-west Queensland. University of Melbourne, Dept. of Linguistics and Language Studies: Parkville. J 499.15 eva
Evans, N. (2003) (Ed.) The non-Pama-Nyungan languages of northern Australia. Pacific Linguistics: Canberra. J 499.15 NONFurby, C.E. (1974) 'Garrawa Phonology'. In Papers in Australian Linguistics 7, Pacific Linguistics A-37 Canberra: 1-11. Q 499.15 kinHale, K. and Ngakulmungan Kangka Leman (1997) Lardil dictionary: a vocabulary of the language of the Lardil people, Mornington Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland: with English-Lardil finder list. Mornington Shire Council: Gununa. G 499.15 1997Hercus, L. and Sutton, P. (1986) This is what happened: historical narratives by Aborigines. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. J 994.0049915 thi
Holmer, N. (1988) Notes on Some Queensland Languages. Australian National University: Canberra. J 499.15 HOL
Howitt, A.W. (reprint) (1996) The Native Tribes of South-East Australia. Australian Studies Press: Canberra. [Online access through SLQ]
Keen, S. (1983) ‘Yukulta’, in RMW Dixon and BJ Blake (eds.) Handbook of Australian Languages 3:190-304. ANU Press Canberra. G 499.15 1979
Leeding, V. (1976) 'Garrawa' in RMW Dixon (ed.) Grammatical Categories in Australian Languages. AIAS Canberra: 382-390. G 499.15 1976
Macgillivray, A. (1886) “The Flinders and Cloncurry Rivers”. In E. M. Curr The Australian Race: Its Origins, Languages, Customs, Place of Landing in Australia and the Routes by which it Spread Itself over that Continent, pp.340-5. Melbourne: John Ferres, Government Printer.RBF 572.994 cur
Meston, A. (undated) Archibald Meston Papers Undated. OM64-17
Nekes, H., Wurms, E. and McGregor, W. (2006) Australian Languages. Berlin: Mouton De Fruyter. J 499.15 NEK
Nordlinger, R. (1998) A Grammar of Wambaya, Northern Territory (Australia) C-140 Pacific Linguistics Canberra. G 499.15 1998Pensalfini, R. (2003) A grammar of Jingulu grammar: an Aboriginal language of the Northern Territory. Pacific linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University: Canberra. J 499.15 PEN
Pittman, R. and Kerr, H. (Eds) (1964) Papers on the Languages of the Australian Aborigines. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. Q 499.15 pap
Prowse, D. (1994) English, Kalkadoon illustrated language book. Kalkadoon Language Prints: Mt Isa. P 499.15 pro
Yallop, C. (1969) ‘The Aljawara and their territory’, Oceania 39(3): 187-197. [Online access via SLQ Databases]
Yallop, C. (1977) Alyawarra: an aboriginal language of Central Australia. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. G 499.15 1977

General References and Further Reading in SLQ Collections

Ah Sam, M., Nancarrow, C. and Rackham, D. (2006) Mitakoodi bush tucker: edible and medicinal plants of the Northwest Highlands and Gulf plains of Queensland. Black Ink Press: Townsville. P 581.632 AH
Australia (1992) Report of the Inquiry into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Language Maintenance. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Australian Government Printing Service: Canberra. G 499.15 1992
Browne, M. (2008) Doomadgee: a history in pictures, volume 1. (DVD) Michael Browne: Queensland. HCF 994.38 BRO
Department of Education, Employment and Training (DEET) (1995) Langwij comes to School. Curriculum Corporation: Canberra. G 372.60899915 1994
Dixon, R. and Blake, B. (Eds) (1981) Handbook of Australian Languages. The Australian National University Press; Canberra. G 499.15 1979
Dixon, R. and Ramson, W. (1992) Australian Aboriginal words in English. Oxford University Press: Melbourne. J 499.15 AUSEdwards, R. (Ed) (2001) Dictionary of Torres Strait languages. Rams Skull Press: Sydney. Q 499.1503 RAY
Harman, D. & Henderson, J. (Eds) (1994) Aboriginal Languages in Education. IAD Press: Alice Springs. G 499.1507 1994Hercus, L.; Hodges, F and Simpson, J. (2002) The land is a map: placenames of Indigenous origin in Australia. Pandanus Books: Canberra. Q 919.4003 LAN
Horton, D. (1994) Aboriginal Australia. (Map) Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies: Canberra. M 804 1999 04700 E
Roth, W. (1897) Ethnological studies among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines. Government Printer: Brisbane. NAT 572.9943 rot
Roth, W. (1981) The Kalkadoons of North-West Queensland. Reprint of material from 'North west central Queensland Aborigines' by W.E. Roth (1897) Government Printer, Brisbane. P 305.89915 KAL
Thieberger, N. and McGregor, W. (Eds) (1994) Macquarie Aboriginal Words: a dictionary of words from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Macquarie University: North Ryde. J 499.15 m'qu

Further details

For further details on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages at SLQ please contact:
kuril dhagun, State Library of Queensland
Stanley Place, South Brisbane Qld, 4101.
PO Box 3488, South Brisbane Qld, 4101.
t: (07) 3842 9836 f: (07) 3842 9893

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