Language of the Week: Week Twenty-Seven - Nywaigi

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-Seven of the A-Z of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

This week's language of the week is Nywaigi from North Queensland, particularly the area surrounding Halifax Bay extending southwest of the Herbert River, inland along the Seaview Range and south towards Rollingstone. Nywaigi is also spelt as Nyawaygi, Nyawigi, Njawigi, Nawagi and Geugagi. Nywaigi were described as rain forest people who lived in the coastal forests; although historical references describe them as the 'Halifax Bay Tribe'.

"Halifax Bay" wordlist in Curr (1877).

The above wordlist was collected by James Cassady, an Irish pastoralist who held several properties in North Queensland, including Fairview Station on the Lower Herbert from 1876-1879. Additionally, Cassady stated 'the Halifax Bay tribe occupies a tract of country fronting the shore of the bay for about fifty miles, and extending fifteen miles inland'. This wordlist and accompanying text appeared in Curr's 1887 publication "The Australian Race". 

Nyawaygi and its' neighbours, Dixon (1983).

Contemporary linguistic work on Nywaigi was undertaken by Tindale and Dixon; an article by Dixon 'Nyawaygi' was published in the Handbook of Australian Languages,Vol 3.  The above map is from this publication and shows the area where Nywaigi was traditionally spoken. Dixon documented the Nywaigi language in the 1960s from Willie Seaton who indicated that Wargamay and Manbara were closely related with many shared words.

Dixon compiled a vocabulary of ~700 Nywaigi words, including the following selection:

  • badjulu - sea water
  • buyin - eye
  • djindal - waterfall
  • gadjara - possum
  • gawiga - barramundi
  • gumbu - grandmother
  • milbir - fig tree
  • wanggu - tree goanna

This text is held in the State Library collections; however, language recordings, field notes and other material relating to Nywaigi is held at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra; while Tindale's work is held at the South Australian Museum.

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

Minya Birran: What next for Indigenous Languages?



Cover image: Swimming in Rollingstone Creek near Townsville, Queensland, 1986. Ron and Ngaire Gale Collection Image Number 601-18-24

"Halifax Bay", in Curr (1887).

Map: Nyawaygi and its' neighbours, in Dixon and Blake (1983).


References and Further Reading

State Library has minimal material on Nywaigi; Dixon's published article is the most comprehensive work while other references to Nywaigi may be found in generic work on North Queensland languages.

Brayshaw, H. (1990) Well beaten paths: Aborigines of the Herbert Burdekin district, north Queensland: an ethnographic and archaeological study. J 306.089 bra

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. (1983) “Nyawaygi”. In Dixon, R. M. W. & Blake, B. (Eds), The handbook of Australian languages 3. G 499.15 1979

Girringun Aboriginal Corporation (2013) Wabu jananyu: cultural plant use by the Girringun Aboriginal tribal groups of North Queensland  by the Girramay, Jirrbal, Gulnay, Djiru, Nywaigi, Warrgamay, Warungnu, Gugu-Badhun and Bandjin people; represented by the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation. J 581.63 WAB

Oates, W. J. and Oates, L. (1970) A revised linguistic survey of AustraliaQ 499.15 OAT

Sirriss, V. (2010) Down to the pondJUV A823.4 SIR

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



AUSTLANG - Australian Languages Database 

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

North Queensland Regional Aboriginal Corporation Languages Centre website

South Australian Museum - Tindale Collection: Nywaigi.


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