Posted on 8 October 2019

A quick look at the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia

The Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia, Second Edition is a unique tool for exploring and understanding the lives and cultures of Australia's First Peoples. Combining the magic of maps with the latest data from the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Atlas allows us to explore a visual history of Indigenous Australia.  About the contributors This second edition of the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia is a collabroative publication of the Australian National University, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Macquarie Dictionary. General Editors Bill Arthur and Frances Morphy have been researching Indigenous affairs and working closely with Indigenous communities for several decades. In 2001 they began working on the first edition of the atlas, which took out the award of Overall Winner in the 2006 Australian Awards for Excellence in Educational Publishing (EEPA). In 2017, they began working on this second edition of the Atlas. Across both editions, there have been over 40 contributors who have researched, written and mapped the content in the Atlas under the general editorship of Bill and Frances. One of the primary aims for this second edition was to increase the presence of Indigenous people contributing to the project. These contributors are drawn from a wide variety of places and professions - from academia, the arts world, Indigenous organisations and the public service. A full list of chapter contributors is available here. About the cover art The cover art, titled Kungkarrangkalpa Tjurkurpa, is a collaborative painting made by Anawari Inpiti Mitchell, Angilyiya Tjapitji Mitchell, Lalla West, Jennifer Nginyaka Mitchell, Eileen Tjayanka Woods, Lesley Laidlaw and Robert Woods at the Papulankutja Artists group in the Northern Territory. The Seven Sisters Songline refers to the Pleiades constellation. It travels from the west to the east across the far western and central deserts. The sisters are pursued by a man, Yurla in the west and Wati Nyiru further east, who is a shapeshifter with transformative powers. He becomes particularly besotted with one of the sisters and pursues them endlessly in order to possess them. Today, this saga is visible in the Orion constellation and the Pleiades star cluster as a constant reminder of the consequences of attempting to possess something through wrongful means. Cover Art: "Kungkarrangkalpa Tjurkurpa", 2015, a collaborative painting made by Anawari Inpiti Mitchell, Angilyiya Tjapitji Mitchell, Lalla West, Jennifer Nginyaka Mitchell, Eileen Tjayanka Woods, Lesley Laidlaw and Robert Woods  About the maps There are several types of maps in the atlas. Among those featured are thematic maps which indicate the occurrence of phenomena across parts of the country, or an event or feature at particular locations and chloropleth maps which show the distribution of socio-economic data. Also featured are choropleth maps, maps with proportional symbols, column maps, as well as graphs, charts and illustrations. More information is available within the atlas itself. Earlier attempts to map Indigenous people at the national level include Norman Tinsdale's iconic map 'Tribal boundaries in Aboriginal Australia', based on research that had been carried out between 1930 and 1974. This map is discussed in detail within the book, but it was "significant in the genesis of the atlas." The version of the map used in the Atlas is an adaptation of Tindale's map. It includes "Indigenous group boundaries existing at the time of first European settlement in Australia, as far as they could be determined. It is not intended to represent contemporary relationships to land." Earlier examples of national mapping tended to deal with just single subjects. While acknowledging and drawing on them, this atlas surveys a comprehensive range of cultural, social and economic traits in a large set of national maps. Find out more The Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia is available in hardback and as a fixed-layout ebook. This ebook is available as part of Apple's Volume Purchase program which allows educational institutions to purchase copies in volume and distribute to students and teachers for use in the classroom and at home. There is also a comprehensive Teacher's Guide available for free download.
Posted on 8 August 2019

The origin of kangaroo – getting to the bottom of an Australian furphy

It is a myth that is, despite being debunked in the 1970s,  still rampant – still passed smugly between schoolchildren in playgrounds all over Australia. It was certainly something I believed for a long time, and is still circulated in popular culture, including in the 2016 blockbuster Arrival – a film with a linguist protagonist, as well as several high-profile linguistics consultants.  I am talking about the Australian furphy around the etymology of kangaroo – that it actually means ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand you’ in language. The story goes that while exploring an area of far north Queensland, near modern-day Cooktown, Lieutenant James Cook and Joseph Banks encountered an unfamiliar creature and tried to ask a local Guugu Yimidhirr man what it was called. He responded, ‘I don’t know’ and the Englishmen took this to be the creature’s name.   As it may not surprise you to hear, this is not the case. In reality, kanguru (pronounced ‘kang-uru’), or ganguru (‘gang-uru’) since k and g are in free alteration in Guugu Yimidhirr, refers to the male of a large black or grey kangaroo species – one of at least eight varieties of kangaroo distinguished in the language. The myth can be traced back to Captain Phillip King, who visited the area in 1820. He established good relations with the Guugu Yimidhirr people and compiled a vocabulary for the language that agreed with Cook’s on all words except one: He recorded a different word for ‘kangaroo’ – menuah. It is thought that King was actually given the word minha, a generic term for ‘edible animal’, but still, King’s account led people to speculate about the actual meaning of kangaroo in Guugu Yimidhirr.  Another interesting chapter in the story of kangaroo is that when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788, they used the word kangaroo with local Dharug people, not realising at first that they spoke a different language. The Dharug people adopted kangaroo, thinking it was an English word for ‘edible animal’ and apparently even inquired as to whether cows were kangaroo. This is a common pattern in the history of contact between English and Australian languages – words spread between Indigenous languages through contact with English. In fact, several decades later, speakers of the Baagandji language of northern New South Wales also acquired the word through contact with European settlers. Baagandji people started using the form gaaŋgurru in order to describe a strange new animal – the horse.  Perhaps, then, the myth is so pervasive because it does represent something true about the story of kangaroo, and in fact many other loan words from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages: That the process of borrowing from Australian languages is so often characterised by miscommunication.
Word of the Day
Posted on 16 October 2019


The act of spotting.