Language of the Week: Week Four - Gayiri

Welcome to Week Four of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language of the week is Gayiri, a language spoken in Central Queensland, particularly in the area around Emerald and the Nogoa River Catchment. Gayiri is also known as Kairi and Khararya - it is closely related to Biri and is often referred to as a dialect within the Biri language chain that extends from Central Queensland to North Queensland. The Gayiri language region includes the landscape within the local government boundaries of the Central Highlands Regional Council.

According to Austlang, there are minimal speakers of Gayiri; this can be attributed to the frontier violence of the mid-19th century, notably the Native Police as well as punitive reprisals following Cullin-la-ringo. 

Despite this history, there are community language revival efforts for Gayiri supported by the Central Queensland Language Centre. There are some historical wordlists collected in the late 1800's and published in Curr's publication The Australian Race. Recent linguistic work has been undertaken by Gavan Breen and Angela Terrill - copies of their linguistic work is held in the State Library collections. Both Breen's 2009 article and Terrill's 1998 publication explore the Biri language chain with particular attention to dialects and neighbouring languages which includes Gayiri.

Curr No. 156 The Nogoa River.

The accompanying image is from Curr's The Australian Race - No. 156 is a list of words collected at the Nogoa River by Thomas Middleton, a pastoralist. An additional list was also provided by another pastoralist E Irving Noble which is fairly similar to Middleton's list with slight differences which may be attributed to dialectical or regional variation. It is believed that Noble's list of words is from the Bimurraburra, which was a clan group in the vicinity of present-day Emerald.

There are many shared words across the region. Some examples include:

  • dhangur (tangoor) - possum
  • ngura (noora) - tame dog
  • gundalu (goondaloo) - emu
  • winna (weena) - fish
  • yabu (yabboo) - father
  • yanga (younga) - mother
  • wanggara (wungara) - one
  • bularu (boolaroo) - two

Breen and Terrill provide an analysis of the grammar and structure of Biri which would apply to Gayiri and assist community members in reviving the language. 

Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Iningai from Central-Western Queensland!


Desmond Crump

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

Spoken Virtual Tour

Jarjum Stories exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?



Nogoa River views, Emerald, ca. 1926. JOL Negative No. 203872

Curr's The Australian Race - No. 156 The Nogoa River.


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have some material relating to Gayiri; however, most of these items are part of larger, general linguistic references on Biri. Collection items include the following:


Breen, G. (2009) “The Biri dialects and their neighbours”. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, V133, No.2. SER 506.942

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 continentRBF 572.994 cur

Roth, W. E. (1898-1903) "Reports to the Commissioner of Police and others, on Queensland aboriginal peoples 1898-1903." FILM 0714

Terrill, A. (1998) BiriJ 499.15 TER

Tindale, N. B. (1974) Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper namesQ 994.0049915 tin



Central Queensland Language Centre


We welcome relevant, respectful comments.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.
We also welcome direct feedback via Contact Us.
You may also want to ask our librarians.

Be the first to write a comment