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Language of the Month | Language, School, Mitchell, Irene, Gunggari, Aboriginal, Cultural, Children | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture
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Irene Ryder

Gunggari is the language spoken in an area of Western Queensland taking in the Maranoa, Warrego. Condamine and Balonne regions.

In the Mitchell area, 80 kms west of Roma, children in the local schools are well used to lessons on Gunggari language and culture. However these are set to become even more fun, with the development of a range of board games that will give the young students plenty of opportunity to use their language, while at the same time testing their luck with the dice. Take a chance when the wandhi (dingo) comes into the camp and advance to the next turn, or lose two goes by stumbling on a bumbara (snake).

Irene Ryder. language worker and teacher from Mitchell, has used the games to let children become familiar with the names of common objects and instructions. Working in conjunction with Nalingu Cultural Centre, Irene, Lynette Nixon and Allan Martin have put together a collection of material, which they hope can be developed fully and expanded into a comprehensive range of teaching resources for the region.

There is strong community support for the Gunggari cultural projects in Mitchell, with Aboriginal cultural presentations featuring regularly in community festivals and parades.

Irene is currently working on a photographic - language exhibition, which is being supported by the local Shire Council.

Jim South with the painting he commissioned.
Jim gets the message postered.

When Gunggari man, Jim South went to the National Indigenous Languages Conference at Alice Springs last year, he listened to speakers from all around Australia discussing the present, past and future of language and cultural preservation.

Finally Jim addressed the audience himself, with a simple message that for him summarized the whole reason for the gathering.

He said "We are descendants of the traditional guardians of this land, accountable to our Maker and to Mother Earth. There are four things for us to keep in mind - The law, lore, responsibility and accountability. If we live by this, we'll be doing our duty as it's expected."

Back home at Murgon in Queensland, Jim contacted Maurice Mickelo, a friend and artist, and asked if he would be prepared to paint a representation of the theme -" Law, lore, responsibility and accountability".

The resulting work is so impressive, that Jim is now having posters made from the o iginal. He plans to distribute the posters to people who he believes are willing to accept and respect the message that inspired the painting.

The schoolhouse back at the original site.
Schoolhouse at the Yumba hclds history
For some language and culture teachers in Mitchell, one tiny wooden building on the town's outskirts holds a treasury of memories - of blazing hot summer afternoons and groups of dusty children filing in to find shade after lunch, the chill of winter coming up through the timber floorboards, and the clang of the old bell that told the cluster of mostly Aboriginal students, that the day was over and they were free to find their way home.

The Mitchell Aboriginal School was opened in 1935 on the site of the old Aboriginal reserve at the Yumba. This school was one of two in Queensland where the Aboriginal children left the community to attend school.

The school had an original enrolment of 37 pupils, and during the 13 years that it operated, saw 133 of the town's Aboriginal children pass through. This was to prove a strength for the Gunggari language, as the young ones continued to communicate with each other while learning English in the formal classes. The school was closed after the last term in 1948, and the building transferred to the Mitchell State School where it was used as the Home Economics room.

In 1990, when the old school building was put up for tender by the Mitchell P& C and the Education Dept. a determined group of past pupils pushed, pleaded and petitioned to have the school returned to its original site at the Yumba.

The efforts of Howard Hobbs, Member for Warrego, Olive Murphy, Charlie Daylight, Ken Dalton, Irene Ryder and Gabiel and Lorraine Coorey, resulted in a grant from the Department of Family Services, allowing the transfer to the home ground to take place on the 19th Feb 1991. The school is now used as a Local Cultural Centre and in time will be developed into a museum.

Lessons are taught by combining Gunggari words with English sentences, to familiarize the reader with single words before sentences are constructed.

I got an akai (knife) to cut the undri (meat). Put on some muthu (bread) and cup of ditton (tea) nundan (no sugar).

Tom and jack had a fight, Jack hit Tom on the clanghi (head) in the bulka (back).

A bumbara (snake) was swimming to a bajuh (frog) and bugili (crayfish) in the amu (water). The dibiyn (bird) was singing in the tree.
A ngarigu (grey kangaroo) went walking in the bush, met a nuriyn (emu) and badbada (porcupine) and mom! (sand goanna) in the tree was a didhayn (koala).

C. 1999 Irene Ryder.

I went and sat under the hooka orringe, (the carbine tree), with my undunu unyc (bag I carry the baby in ), and had a drink of umu (water).

Ucarn waakina umu buthina, (might rain tonight clouds corning up.)

one day I was in the bush,. I saw a baruda eating bookarn and drinking umu.
(I saw a red kangagroo eating grass and drinking water).

There was a burrdi on the other side of the illmogarn. (There was a fire on the other side of the river.)

C. 1999 Lynette Nixon.