Language of the Week: Week Nineteen - Buluguyban

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this blog post contains images or refers to names of Aboriginal people who have passed; this is not meant to cause distress or offence but raise awareness of our shared history and the story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages across Queensland.

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

State Library is back to the start of the series, so this week's language of the week is Buluguyban, which was traditionally spoken on Palm Island and neighbouring islands, including Fantome. According to Sutton (1973) and Donohue (2006), Buluguyban is a dialect of Wulguru which was spoken on the mainland in the Townsville district. Tsunoda (1974) who also undertook linguistic work in the region with the Palm Island community members referred to the language as Bulugujban.

Sutton adds that Mulgu and Buluguyban were two languages spoken on Palm Island that came under the umbrella term of Wulguru or Wulgurukaba and that a dialect of the same language was also spoken at Cleveland Bay. According to Austlang, there are no known speakers - Tsunoda recorded Reggie Palm Island and other speakers in 1974 who had some knowledge of Buluguyban language.  This linguistic work, including Tsunoda's recordings are held at AIATSIS.

Buluguyban and the neighbouring languages from Townsville and Cleveland Bay are all considered endangered. The North Queensland Regional Aboriginal Corporation Language Centre supports language communities across the region.

Donohue in his work has collated words from Buluguyban, including the following:

  • bunarhu - sand
  • dhalmal - water (drinking)
  • ngandha - salt water
  • nganyi - face, forehead
  • rhali - chest
  • umbal - dog

The Bwgcolman Indigenous Knowledge Centre on Palm Island also supports local language and history through their work.

Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Djagaraga from the tip of Cape York!


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

Old Words, New Ways upcoming exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?



Cover image: Photographer: Alf Wilson. Acc: 31493, Palm Island Centenary Commemoration Photographs 2018, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland .

Crowds gathered on the beach at Palm Island, Queensland. W. J. Lawrie, undated. Image number: 4831-0001-0021


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have limited material relating to Buluguyban / Wulguru and neighbouring languages; however, most of these items are part of larger, general linguistic or historical references on North Queensland.


Brayshaw, H. (1990) Well beaten paths: Aborigines of the Herbert Burdekin district, north Queensland: an ethnographic and archaeological studyG 306.0899915 1990

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

Cadet-James, Y., James, R., McGinty, S. and McGregor, R. (2017) Gugu Badhun: people of the Valley of LagoonsJ 305.89915 CAD 

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

Dixon, R. M. W. (2007) Australian languages: their nature and development. 499.15 2007

Dixon, R. and Blake, B. (Eds) (1979) Handbook of Australian LanguagesG 499.15 1979

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

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

Tsunoda, T. (2011) A grammar of Warrongo. Online access via One Search.


Other sources, held elsewhere, mainly AIATSIS:

  • Donohue, M. (2007) Wulguru: a salvage study of a north-eastern Australian language from Townsville: Languages of the World/Materials 463. München: Lincom Europa.
  • Sutton, Peter. 1973. Gugu-Badhun and its neighbours: a linguistic salvage study, Macquarie University: MA. MS 694.
  • Sutton, Peter. 1995. Notes on the Palm Island and Townsville language. PMS 5543.
  • Tsunoda, Tasaku. 1974. Fieldwork report [to AIAS]. MS 799.


Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

North Queensland Regional Aboriginal Corporation 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