Language of the Week: Week Thirty-One - Wulgurukaba

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this blog post may contain 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 Thirty-One of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language is Wulgurukaba from the Townsville region of North Queensland, particularly the Ross River and Magnetic Island extending towards Cleveland Bay. Wulgurukaba is also known as Wulgurugaba as well as Wulguru while Sutton refers to two groups at Cleveland Bay, Nhawalgaba and Gabilgara who also spoke Wulguru. Donohue in his recent linguistic work also identifies Coonambella as a Wulguru-speaking group in the region. Charles Price, a Townsville Draper wrote a manuscript "Vocabulary of the Coonambella Tribe" which was accepted for inclusion in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition (1886). Curr in his 1887 work The Australian Race ... also includes several wordlists from the Townsville Region; of particular interest is 124 Cleveland Bay [image below] which is probably Wulgurukaba or one of its dialects.

Austlang indicates there are no known speakers of Wulgurukaba; there are community revival efforts supported by the North Queensland Regional Aboriginal Corporation Language Centre which draws upon the above-mentioned historical materials as well as Donohue's publication Wulguru: a salvage study of a language from North-East Queensland, Australia. Donohue has included the work of Price and others to compile a fairly extensive reference text on Wulguru and neighbouring languages of the Townsville Region. 

This is the source for the following Wulgurukaba words:

  • andha - salt water
  • buli - kangaroo
  • bururu - shark
  • gawa - uncle
  • Guliman - Cape Cleveland
  • guya - fish
  • Mundalgan - Mt Stuart
  • muugar - coral reef
  • namuru - sunset
  • yana - go, walk


Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Yiman from Central 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

Old Words, New Ways upcoming exhibition

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?



Cover image:  Panoramic view of Townsville showing Castle Hill, ca. 1905. Postcard Collection Negative number: 194762

Wordlist 124 Cleveland Bay from Curr (1887)


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have limited material relating to 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