Log In

Young Aboriginal Student Helping to Preserve Dja Dja Wurrung Language

Creating a dictionary is the task that Monash linguistics student and Dja Dja Wurrung man Harley Dunolly-Lee has begun.


Learning a language can be difficult enough but especially without a dictionary.

Linguistics student Harley, who grew up in Bendigo, began learning the language of his ancestors at the age of 16. But he struggled with the limited vocabulary and pronunciations of the Dja Dja Wurrung language.

So he decided to embark on the creation of a dictionary.

“It takes a long, long, time, but now that I am at university I am actually doing it,” he said.

Harley along with members of his community will spend the next five years developing a Dja Dja Wurrung Dictionary in consultation with community members.

“I got connected with the Aboriginal community in Bendigo and they sent me a source dictionary but the problem with that was that it was misleading. It spelt words in different ways, you couldn’t get the distinct Aboriginal sounds,” said Harley.

They are picking up from the work of La Trobe University Linguist Professor Barry Blake who created word lists of many Victorian Aboriginal languages.

“At the moment it is getting the right sounds and expanding,” said Harley.

“We’ve only got the basic grammar. You need linguistics as a tool to expand on that if you want to learn it fluently.”

The foundation of the language was luckily recorded back in the 1960s by linguist Louise Hercas who interviewed Victorian Aboriginal people from neighbouring tribes of the Dja Dja Wurrung.

“That’s what saved the Dja Dja Wurrung sound systems,” said Harley.

“That’s the main reason why Dja Dja Wurrung sounds can be retrieved.”

The challenge is to now perfect the Dja Dja Wurrung language in order to be able to incorporate distinct sounds.

For Harley the language is intrinsically tied to his history and ultimately his identity.

“It’s how the ancestors thought back then, the more you go deeply into the language the more you learn it and the more you start to see things differently,” he said.

Dja Dja Wurrung encompasses the traditional owners of country across Central Victoria along the Loddon, Avoca, and Campaspe Rivers. Where once the language was widely spoken it became difficult to maintain with colonisation.

“By 1863 the population of the Dja Dja Wurrung people went from about 6000 down to 12 families, six children and four adults and two teenagers that were left,” said Harley.

Harley is determined to preserve his past.

This article originally appears at:
Article taken from the following publication:
ABC Central Victoria
Article submitted by:
Larissa Romensky

Leave a Reply



Partly Cloudy

Humidity 75%

Wind 8.05 km/h

  • 04 Jan 201933°C19°C
  • 05 Jan 201937°C21°C