Wunambal Gaambera people launch digital dictionary in the remote North Kimberley

Wunambal Gaambera people in the far north Kimberley have contributed to a dictionary to preserve their language/s for future generations. Using modern technologies, the dictionary will be available for download on mobile phones for easy application.

The dictionary was launched at Munurru, King Edward River Campground on the Mitchell Plateau on Saturday 12th August with a junba song and dance for their mob and visitors to the campground.

Developed by the Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation with support from the Australian Government’s Indigenous Languages and Arts program, the Wunambal Gaambera Dictionary will be a useful tool for Traditional Owners to remember and share their language.

As noted in their Healthy Country Plan 2021-2030, loss of Uunguu knowledge is a huge threat for Wunambal Gaambera people and is a big part of their Wanjina Wunggurr law and culture. Wunambal Gaambera people have a strong responsibility to keep Uunguu knowledge healthy and strong and to pass it on to future generations.

“It is our vision that we and our future generations have the cultural knowledge of our elders.” Catherine Goonack Chair, WGAC.


This dictionary is a tool Wunambal Gaambera people can use to ensure language is being maintained, revitalised and renewed through each generation. Wunambal Gaambera people can have this dictionary on their mobile phones, look at how words are spelt, look up Wunambal words in the English index, listen to audio clips of words being spoken, and look at pictures of some of the plants and animals,” explains Jason Lee, WGAC Senior Project Officer.


The compilation of the Wunambal Gaambera Dictionary brings together language research from many decades, with research first recorded in the 1930s. Most recently, Jason Lee, with support from WGAC Directors, Angelina Boona Karadada and Jeremy Kowan, has been compiling some major contributions of previous decades. Some examples are Arthur Capell’s 1941 sketch grammar and vocabulary of Wunambal, some of Eric Vaszolyi’s manuscripts and recordings from the 1970s, Thérèse Carr’s Master’s thesis on Wunambal grammar from 2000, and the Uunguu Plants and Animals book, WGAC published in 2011.


In 2022, Angelina also worked with Jason to develop some language lessons and teaching materials aimed at children. These have been trialed at the Kandiwal School on Ngauwudu, Mitchell Plateau.

This dictionary includes the contributions of many Wunambal Gaambera people over many decades, and we would like to acknowledge and thank them. Some of these people include †[1]Collier Bengmoro, Angelina Boona Karadada (nee Mangolarmara), †Mickey Bungguni, †William Bunjuck, Agnes Charles, †Basil Djanghara, †Wilfred Goonack, †Jack Karadada, Lily Karadada, †Louis Karadada, †Regina Karadada, †Paddy Lulpundah, †Geoffrey Mangolamara, †Sylvester Mangolamara, †Janet Oobagooma, †Laurie Utemorrah, †Albert Waila and Dianna Williams. There are more contributors whose names were unfortunately not recorded at the time.


Wunambal and Gaambera are Australian Aboriginal languages traditionally spoken by Wunambal and Gaambera people in the north Kimberley. Wunambal is spoken in the region between the Prince Regent River and the lower portion of the King Edward River, and includes the Bonaparte Archipelago and the Mitchell Plateau. Wunambal and Gaambera are non-Pama-Nyungan languages belonging to the Wunambalic group of the Worrorran or North Kimberley language family.


Wunambal is very closely related to Gaambera. There were some differences in the past but in recent times these differences have faded. Wunambal and Gaambera are also closely related to the other north Kimberley Wunambalic languages, Kwini, Miwa and Yiiji, and less closely related to Worlaja, Ngarinyin and Worrorra.


We look forward to sharing and learning from this dictionary, especially for our young ones.” Catherine Goonack WGAC Chair.


Download the Wunambal Gaambera Dictionary app for Android or Apple Phones here: https://wunambalgaambera.org.au/healthy-country/our-language/

[1] The dagger symbol (†) indicates a deceased contributor. Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation respectfully publishes their full names to acknowledge their important role in contributing to the survival of Wunambal Gaambera language and culture.


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