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NAIDOC Week 2016. State Library of Queensland

NAIDOC Week 2016 is nearly here and has the theme of Songlines: the living narrative of our nation. Songlines records the travel of ancestral spirits who ‘sung’ the land into life. Aboriginal language groups are connected through the sharing of Songlines with each language group responsible for parts of a Songline [NAIDOC Website].

NAIDOC Week 2016 Logo [NAIDOC Website]

NAIDOC Week 2016 Logo [NAIDOC Website]


This year’s theme provides an opportunity to explore the narratives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages from Dreaming and Creation stories through to accounts of historical and contemporary events. The State Library collections hold a range of Dreaming stories, particularly for younger readers as well as academic references that discuss the spiritual connections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to land, sea and water.

My People's Dreaming [305.89915 2013]

My People’s Dreaming [305.89915 2013]

One of the lesser known collection items is a text edited by Luise Hercus and Peter Sutton titled ‘This is what happened: historical narratives by Aborigines’. Contact history is the underlying theme, however the stories are told by Aboriginal people in language! Many of the stories included in the publication are oral histories passed down through generations and written for the first time by Hercus and Sutton, who are linguists but also take on the role of editors in compiling these narratives.

Cape Keerweer [This is what happened, p84]

Cape Keerweer [Hercus & Sutton, p84]

Sutton acts as a transcriber for one of the earliest contact stories – ‘Dutchmen at Cape Keeweer’ a story dating back to 1623 and told by Jack Spear Karntin in Wik-Ngatharra. Kanthanya (Jack’s traditional name) was born in 1905 near Aurukun and his story has been passed down to provide an account of Carstensz’s voyage in the vessels Pera and Arnhem in 1623 following the path of an earlier journey undertaken by the Duyfken. Sutton recorded Jack at Wathanhiina (Peret Outstation) via Aurukun in December 1976.

Jack Spear (Kanhthanya) [This is what happened, p.84]

Jack Spear (Kanhthanya) [Hercus & Sutton, p.84]

However, while Jansz and the Duyfken was a voyage of exploration, Carstensz was ‘under orders to capture inhabitants of newly-discovered lands as a way of acquiring information about the resources of the country’ [Hercus & Sutton, p. 89]. This led to a several confrontations and stand-offs, before a group went ashore on 7 May 1623 ‘for the express purpose of capturing one or more Aboriginals, but were attacked by a group of over 100 people who retreated when a musket was fired’ [Hercus & Sutton, p. 89]. Several days later, Carstensz shot and captured an Aboriginal man who died while rowing back to the main boat. The experience of Western Cape was summarised by Carstensz as ‘this is the most arid and barren region that could be found anywhere on earth; the inhabitants, too, are the most wretched and poorest creatures that I have ever seen in my age or time’ [Hercus & Sutton, p. 90].

Wik-Ngatharra text [Hercus & Sutton, p. 95]

Wik-Ngatharra text [Hercus & Sutton, p. 95]

Jack Spear tells his version of events in Wik-Ngatharra of that day. “Thewen” nhul-eya nhamp-ey inhtha “Cape Keerwee” inhtha epam. It’s Thewena actually, not ‘Cape Keerweer’. The remainder of the story provides a snapshot of an early Dutch settlement and refers to the existence of a well and house remains as the only signs of the visit by Dutch boats. Boat yota, inya-ng-inyey, Dutchmen iny-ey, ya’a minama-nh [Many boats were there, which the Dutchmen had built] Wuucha kenya-na-n [They built a house]. Jack also took Sutton to visit this location and recorded a longer, animated story with Jack and two other men using Wik-Ngathana and Wik-Mungkana languages.

Umpila text [Hercus & Sutton, p.200]

Umpila text [Hercus & Sutton, p.200]

There are other fascinating stories within the text – from the early contacts and visits by Macassars to Northern Australia to conflicts with Native Police and contemporary accounts of Mission Life and the struggle for land rights. Queensland languages include Umpila, Gugu-Badhun, Oykangand and Kukatj.

The story of Old Paddy (Umpila) [Hercus & Sutton, p.193]

The story of Old Paddy (Umpila) [Hercus & Sutton, p.193]

Written narratives are only one part of Songlines; other items within the collections include animated stories, art and music. All of these help tell the stories and shared histories of our nation; this NAIDOC Week State Library encourages you to discover these!

Evac song, Hope Vale workshop.

Evac song [Hope Vale workshop]


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory

State Library Indigenous Languages Webpages


References and Further Reading

Aboriginal Nations (1995) The Dreaming: a thirteen part animation series. QVC 398.20994 DRE VHS

Bond, A. (2012) Songlines into Brisbane. HDVD 994.31 BON

Connolly, M. (2009) Dreamtime Kullilla dreaming stories 5 Aboriginal dreaming stories. HKT 398.20899915 CON

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

Frankland, M. (1996) Contemporary Aboriginal music songlines. QKTL 781.660994 con

Harrison, M. (2013) My people’s dreaming : an Aboriginal elder speaks on life, land, spirit and forgiveness. 305.89915 2013

Heeres, J. (1899) The part borne by the Dutch in the discovery of Australia 1606-1765. RBQ 919.4041 HEE

Hercus, L. and Sutton, P. (1986) This is what happened: historical narratives by Aborigines. J 994.0049915 thi

Kerwin, D. (2010) Aboriginal dreaming paths and trading routes : the colonisation of the Australian economic landscape. J 994.004 KER

Kerwin, D. (2011) “Language and Landscape: European words in Aboriginal spaces”. Out of the Port session. Available online as a webcast via SLQ Website.

Mason, D. (2000) Dreaming : Aboriginal legends from Lower Cape York Peninsula. G 398.208 2000

Scragg, S. (2013) Retold: A retelling of stories and songs from Myths and Legends of the Torres Strait by Margaret Lawrie. DVD 27464

Sharp, N. (1993) Stars of Tagai: the Torres Strait Islanders. G 994.38 1993

Steele, J. G. (1984) Aboriginal Pathways in Southeast Queensland and the Richmond River. Q 994.3102 ste

Tindale, N. B. (1974) Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper names. Q 994.0049915 tin

Winterbotham, L. (1957) ‘The Gaiarbau Story: Some native customs and beliefs of the Jinibara tribe as well as those of some of their neighbours in south-east Queensland’, Queensland Ethnohistory Transcripts. Q 994.30049915 SOM


This article originally appears at:
Article taken from the following publication:
State Library QLD Blogs
Article submitted by:
Des Crump

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