Talking book gives new voice to Indigenous languages

19 Jun 2015

As many Indigenous languages lose their speakers, a researcher from The University of Queensland has developed a unique audio book to keep the words alive for generations to come.

Kawarla: How to Make a Coolamon is the result of extensive language documentation work conducted in the Gurindji community in the Northern Territory.

Dr Felicity Meakins, from UQ’s School of Languages and Cultures, worked with Gurindji elders Biddy Wavehill and Violet Wadrill to create the book.

“The audio is linked to the book’s text through QR codes, which can be played through smart phones, allowing the reader to hear the words as they were spoken,” Dr Meakins said.

It means that Gurindji elders will continue to be heard long after they pass away, and younger generations will still have access to their knowledge.

“Most Indigenous languages were traditionally only spoken, not written, which means developing a book like this will bring new life and longevity to the language, history and culture of the Gurindji people.”

The Gurindji people are from the Northern Territory’s Victoria River District, about 900 kilometres south-west of Darwin.

Dr Meakins’ work as a linguist focuses on the documentation of Australian Indigenous languages in the area and the effect of English on them.

“Across Australia, just 40 of the original 250 Indigenous languages once spoken remain,” she said.

Dr Meakins said she hoped this work could help preserve the Gurindji language and perspective.

“After all, it’s our history on the line – and it’s through language that we communicate it,” she said.

Kawarla: How to Make a Coolamon will be published this month by Batchelor Press. It was funded by the DOBES Dokumentation Bedrohter Sprachen (Volkswagen Stiftung), the Central Land Council and supported by Karungkarni Arts and UQ.

Image: The Kawarla book team: (L-R) Felicity Meakins (linguist), Penny Smith (photographer), Violet Wadrill, Biddy and Jimmy Wavehill (Gurindji language experts, painters and coolamon makers).

Media: Dr Felicity Meakins,,0411 404 546 or 0467 206 202;

Communications and Publications Officer Gillian Ievers,, 0406 510668.