A bilby for Easter
The bilby is gaining popularity as an alternative to the Easter Bunny, but have you thought about the origins of the word?
During 2019, State Library celebrated the International Year of Indigenous Languages with a word of the week initiative which showcased a word from the diverse range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages across Queensland. To coincide with Easter, the Week 16 word was bilby, from the Yuwaalayaay language of South-West Queensland and North-West NSW – meaning ‘Bilby or Rabbit-eared bandicoot’.
In 2021 leading up to the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, it is timely to revisit the word bilby and explore other language words for this endangered marsupial.
The word bilby is sourced from a community dictionary of Yuwaalayaay compiled in 1998 by John Giacon and Ian Sim drawing on the knowledge of language speakers, including Mrs G. Rose, Willie Willis, Greg Fields and Mrs West. Yuwaalayaay was spoken along the Queensland-NSW border, including Goodooga and Walgett and extending into South-West Queensland.
Yuwaalayaay is also known as Yuwalyai, Euahlayi, Yualai, Yualeai, etc. and is closely related to neighbouring languages of Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay. Linguistic research indicates Yuwaalayaay is spoken by less than 20 people in the community and classed as critically endangered; it is one of the languages supported by the Walgett Language Program.
The word bilby is derived from 'bilba' which is used in both Yuwaalayaay and the neighboring language Yuwaalaraay. There is also another word used for the bilby and that is dhuluun.gayaa which is based on dhulu meaning 'stick' and refers to the way that a bilby's tail stands up like a stick when it is running while gayaa is based on gayaay meaning 'sandy country'.
While the word originates from Yuwaalayaay, other groups in Western Queensland also had their own name for the long-eared bandicoot which is found in sandy desert country. Dhanggu was used in the Maranoa-Warrego regions which take in the Bidjara and Gunggari language nations. Thangku was used in Muruwari, while Thalka is the word from Arabana-Wangkangurra languages which straddle the Queensland and South-Australian borders.
Here is a selection of words for bilby from other states:
- Mankarr (Manjilijarra - Western Australia)
- Warlpajirri (Warlpiri - Northern Territory)
- Ninu (Pitjantjatjarra - South Australia)
- Ahurt (Arrernte - Northern Territory)
- Dalgyte or Dolgoitch (Noongar - Western Australia)
Did you know that bilbies featured in creation stories as well as depicted in rock art for some Aboriginal groups?
Today bilbies are considered endangered - the lesser bilby was considered extinct in the 1950's and there is conservation work being done to preserve the remaining greater bilby population.
Indigenous Languages Coordinator, State Library of Queensland
State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Webpages
State Library of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages Map
Spoken: Celebrating Queensland languages exhibition
Jarjum Stories exhibition
Old Words, New Ways exhibition
Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?
This word was originally sourced from the following items in the State Library collections.
Source: Giacon, J. and Sim, I. (1998) Yuwaalayaay, the language of the Narran River. P 499.15 yuw
Additional information for this blog post was sourced from the Save the Bilby website: https://savethebilbyfund.com/
Other materials in the State Library collections relating to Yuwaalayaay and neighbouring languages referenced in the blog post, include the following:
Ash, A., Giacon, J. and Lissarrague, A. (2003) Gamilaraay, Yuwaalaraay, Yuwaalayaay Dictionary. J 499.1503 GAM
Barlow, H. (1865) Harriet Barlow Manuscript. Provides the basis for her work “Aboriginal Vocabularies of Queensland”. OM91-69
Breen, J.G. (1990) Salvage Studies of Western Queensland Aboriginal Languages. J 499.15 bre
Breen, J.G. (1990) Innamincka Words: Yandruwandha dictionary and stories. J 499.15 INN
Breen, J.G. (2004) Innamincka talk: a grammar of the Innamincka dialect of Yandruwandha with notes on other dialects. J 499.15 BRE
Conrick, P. (1988) Dictionary of Dieri-Yantrawantra-Wangkumara tribes of the Cooper-Tibooburra-Innamincka areas. Q 499.15 con
Duncan, B. and White, H. (2014) Speaking our way: a collection of Aboriginal languages of the Northern Tablelands of NSW. J 499.15 SPE
Giacon, J. (1999) Yuwaalaraay/Gamilaraay Wordlist. P 499.1503 yuw
Giacon, J. and Sim, I. (1998) Yuwaalayaay, the language of the Narran River. P 499.15 yuw
Harrison, G. (1991) Wangkumara alphabet book. PAM 499.15 1981
Hercus, L. (1994) A grammar of the Arabana-Wangkangurru language, Lake Eyre Basin, South Australia. G 499.15 1994
Holmer, N. (1983) Linguistic Survey of South-Eastern Queensland. J 499.15 HOL
Ridley, W. (1875) 2nd edn, Kamilaroi and other Australian Languages. Q 499.15 rid
Tindale, N. B. (1974) Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper names. Q 994.0049915 tin
Wafer, J. and Lissarrague, A. (2008) A handbook of Aboriginal languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. J 499.15 WAF