Language of the Week: Week Twenty-Two - Irukandji

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

This week's language of the week is Irukandji a language from the Cairns region in Far North Queensland, particularly Cairns North taking in Smithfield and Northern Beaches extending towards Port Douglas. Irukandji is also known as Yirrganydji, Irakanji, Yirkandji, Yirkanji, Yirgay, Yirrgay, etc. and seen as related to the Yidinji and Djabugay languages of Cairns and surrounding districts. Austlang includes some discussion on the nature of Irukandji / Yirrgay identifying it as a dialect of Djabugay, with linguists such as Patz also referring to the language as Djabuganjdji.

Views of the Barron River nearby Red Bluff north of Cairns, c. 1890.

According to Oates' Linguistic survey of Australia, undertaken in 1970 [see image below], the language was spoken in a thin coastal strip from Cairns North to Port Douglas. There is also a reference to Yirgandji meaning or referring to 'peoplefrom the North'. Oates was unable to identify fluent speakers which is also reflected in contemporary surveys, including the National Indigenous Languages Survey (2015) and the ABS Census of 2016. 

Yirgandji entry, Oates Linguistic Survey  of Australia, (1970)

There are community efforts to revive the language, particularly through the Yirrganydji Land and Sea Ranger program coordinated by the Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation. Documentation for Irukandji is minimal and usually included with linguistic texts on Djabugay or Yidinji written by Patz, Dixon and others. The following selection of words have been sourced from the Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation website and reflect their ongoing connection to land and sea.

pama kulpul-parra = salt water people

Panal Wangal = Cairns, Trinity Inlet 

Diju = Port Douglas

pulmpa = land

kulpul = sea country


To discover more about the work of the Yirrganydji Land and Sea Rangers, watch this clip from ICTV.


Next week's Language of the Week is Jangga 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: Aboriginal people standing above a waterfall near Cairns. Negative Number 36948

Views of the Barron River nearby Red Bluff north of Cairns, c 1890. Image number: API-006-0001-0006

Yirgandji entry from Oates (1970) A revised linguistic survey of AustraliaQ 499.15 OAT


References and Further Reading

State Library collections have some material relating to Irukandji with relevant material on Cairns Region languages also catalogued under Yidinji and Djabugay.

Bottoms, T. (1992) The Bama: people of the rainforest: Aboriginal-European relations in the Cairns rainforest region up to 1876P 994.36 bot

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. (1977) A grammar of YidinG 499.155 1977

Dixon, R. M. W. (1991) Words of our country: stories, place names and vocabulary in Yidiny, the Aboriginal language of the Cairns-Yarrabah regionG 499.15 1991

Gribble, E. R. B. (1930) Forty years with the AboriginesG 266.0994 1930

Meston, A. (undated) Archibald Meston Papers Undated. OM64-17

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

Patz, Elisabeth. 1991. "Djabugay". In Handbook of Australian languages, vol. 4, eds R. M. W. Dixon and B. J. Blake, 244-347. J 499.15 HAN

Patz, E. (2002) A grammar of the Kuku Yalanji language of north Queensland. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. J 499.15 PAT

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

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



Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation.

North Queensland Regional Aboriginal Corporation Language Centre


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