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(L to R) Elva Lindsay, John Boxer, Rhonda Agius and Joshua Bryant at Mansfield Park Primary School.
(L to R) Elva Lindsay, John Boxer, Rhonda Agius and Joshua Bryant at Mansfield Park Primary School.
Ngarrindjeri [South Australia]
Ngarrindjeri is the indigenous language of a large part of the lower River Murray and Coorong region

Kaldowinyeri nganuwe Nankurewanar ngopanar ngrewar warar hikai Ruwe. Wandje lu:ku kringkari arndu milipulun. Nganuwe Ngarrindjerar yange rammin ili lu:ku kringkari ngamuwe our tarno meriwallin ringbalin ai ngaiyulun ngamuwe porlar ngamuwe tungarar. Lun newalengk ngrattin angk nammuldi tungarar inye nganuwe ngrampar mant lu:ku kringkari. lnye auw ngurn our ngrattin nganuwe tungarar inye ngooiyulun nganuwe Porlar. Kalyan elitj ap tumbelin ngurint plaityingin ungai nganuwe Ngarrindjera luk lu:ku kangulandai Ngarrindjera ngurint hikaiy ruwe. Lun hikkainungge ngunuwe tungarar our kangulandjai pultin kitji wal karanye lu:ku multiwallin tungarar ngurint hikaiy Ruwe.

A long time ago my ancestors walked all over this land. Then the white man came speaking in a foreign language. My people were told by the white man you must not speak, sing or teach your children your language. So we learned to hide our language and our secrets from the white man and now we must learn our language and teach our children. There is an awakening of pride in my people as the first people of this land. So today our language must once more take its place beside the many languages of this country.

Rhonda Agius

Like many other historical researchers, Rhonda Agius knows the meaning of perseverance. Looking through recordings of Ngarrindjeri language from anthropologists and missionaries, and with help from the experts in her own South Australian community, Rhonda has now compiled at least 46 different names that refer to family relationships. This list doesn't stop at great aunts and uncles, but gives kinship names to connections such as `Ngaityanowe' the name for a male relative before the great grandfather.

Rhonda works methodically, looking to compile lists for different categories at one time, although things don't always go according to plan. Working on a list of animal names, Rhonda spent nearly three years trying to find the Ngarrindjeri word for penguin, and is still hoping to come across the translation for koala. The fact that there may not even be one is something this language teacher has come to accept. As she explains. "It's quite understandable if koalas weren't seen in this area that there won't be a Ngarrindjeri word for it. If you ask the desert people, they won't have a word for penguin." 4046 Ngarrindjeri is the indigenous ID language of a large part of the lower River Murray and Coorong region, and has been spoken continuously from before the European invasion.

Overall Rhonda has spent nearly seven years in her research, and continues to find words that haven't been in use for decades.

She notes that the language has been altered over time, typically with the adding of 's' to the end of a word to create a plural form. Contemporary speakers also prefer to use Ngarrindjeri words with English endings and word ordering. In her work, Rhonda continues to record the traditional forms, teaching them to children at the Mansfield Park Primary School in 8 classes each week. Rhonda was not raised with language in her own home. Known as a storyteller, she remembers the tales from her grandmother and other Ngarrindjeri Elders, but regrets that this was a time when the influences against the speaking of the language were too strong for it to be heard.

Today, while there is a lot of knowledge of the language within the community, there are no fluent speakers.The school programs are aiming to renew and maintain that knowledge, and extend the number of people who will identify with the language, keeping it alive within the community.

Photo reproduced with permission from WarrannaPurruttiappendi Reviving Languages.