Language of the Week: Week Twenty-Eight - Olkola

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this blog post may contain images or 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 Twenty-Eight of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language of the week is Olkola from Central Cape York, on the fringe of Quinkan Country taking in the Alice River catchment, Middle Coleman River; extending south to Crosbie River. Olkola is also known as Uw Olkola, Olgol, Olkol, Koko Olkol and often referred to as Kunjen. Uw Olkola is closely related to Uw Oykangand with many shared words. With the onset of cattle properties on Cape York, Aboriginal people including Olkola were moved to Mitchell River Mission at Trubanam in 1906; the mission was relocated to a new site on Magnificent Creek in 1918 and was known as Kowanyama. 

The Olkola Aboriginal Corporation have been custodians of their country for thousands of years; a process that was reaffirmed with the establishment of the Glengarland Pastoral Lease on Central Cape York and the return to country for many Olkola people and their families. The Olkola Aboriginal Corporation manages this lease on behalf of traditional owners as well as the Olkola Nature Reserve. Additionally, Olkola Aboriginal Corporation jointly manages with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service several parks with community access: 

  • The Olkola National Park 

  • The Alwal National Park

  • The Olkola (Kurrumbila) Regional Park

Map showing the estates of the Oykangand, Sommer (2006).

Olkola Aboriginal Corporation coordinate a number of significant caring for country initiatives, including Olkola Ajin Savannah burning project, Awal Golden Shouldered Parrot as well as ranger programs. This selection of words reflects their work on country:

  • arrgi - land, ground, earth
  • ejer - water
  • alhu - fire
  • ug omo - black ant
  • oyol - wet season
  • ugnga - sun

Pama Language Centre is supporting the Olkola Language Revival project which also features traditional knowledge around plants and animals. Uw Olkola is considered endangered; there were several historical wordlists from the late 1800's as well as material from Roth. However, the bulk of linguistic work has been carried out by Bruce Sommers and Bruce Rigsby from the 1960s - their work including sound recordings and field notes is held at the Fryer Library, University of Queensland, while other material is held at AIATSIS in Canberra. The State Library collections only hold a small number of items relating to Uw Olkola and Uw Oykangand, primarily published materials by Sommers, Rigsby and Sutton.

Additional material for this blog has been sourced from the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation website.


Join State Library for next week's Language of the Week - Torres Strait Creole or Yumplatok!


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?



Cover image: Children at Mitchell River, 1939. JOL Negative Number 58734

Map: Estates of the Oykangand, in Sommer, 2006. J 499.15 SOM.


References and Further Reading

State Library has minimal material on Uw Olkola and Oykangand and neighbouring languages; other language content can be found in generic language studies of Cape York, particularly Kunjen.


Kinslow Harris, J., Wurm, S. and Laycock, D. (1971) Papers in Australian linguistics, no. 4Q 499.15 kin

Luke, A. (2011) Uw Oykangand Oy berr : traditional bush medicine from the Kunjen of Kowanyama. Alma Luke with Myrtle Luke and Bernadette Boscacci. J 615.882 LUK 

Moyle, A. (1977) Songs from North QueenslandHLP 782.42162 SON

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

Roth, W. (1910) Ethnological Studies of the North-West Central Aborigines. Q 572.9943 rot

Sommer, B. (1972) Kunjen syntax : a generative viewQ 499.15 SOM

Sommer, B. (1975) The Bowman incidentQ 994.3602 SOM

Sommer, B. (2006) Speaking Kunjen: an ethnography of Oykangand kinship and communication. J 499.15 SOM

Sutton, P. (ed) (1974) Languages of Cape York: papers presented to the Linguistic Symposium, Part B, held in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Biennial General Meeting, May,1974 G 499.15 1976

Tindale, N. B. (1974) Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits and Proper Names.  Q 994.0049915 tin



Fryer Library, University of Queensland

Olkola Aboriginal Corporation

Pama 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