24 January 2011
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
A generation after the upheaval of 1788 and the arrival of the First Fleet, and around 150 km north of Sydney, Lancelot Edward Threlkeld was superintending the outpost he had set up at what is now Belmont on Lake Macquarie on behalf of the London Missionary Society. The purpose was to make contact with the local indigenous people and to undertake all that missionaries normally hope to do. Threlkeld believed that he would better achieve this objective if he could communicate, if he himself learnt the language of the area. And he assiduously applied himself to doing this, and recorded his language acquisition in publications spanning over thirty years from 1825 until his death in 1859. These included a grammar, sample sentences, and translations of two of the Gospels as well as various prayers. His was a major achievement, and opened up the study of Australian indigenous languages.
Threlkeld was helped in particular by one man, Biraban, also known as McGill, who was fluent in English having been a servant at the Military Barracks in Sydney in his boyhood. His name meant ‘eaglehawk’, or ‘wedge-tailed eagle’. Or perhaps this word really signified any big bird, as the same word meant ‘emu’ in languages south of Sydney:
"birribain" biriban = "emu" emu : KAOL Ridley [WODI] [:111:31] [Wodi]
"Birre.bine" biriban = "Emu" emu : Larmer (RSNSW) BBay [:225.4:34] [DYRGN]
"Birriban" biriban = "Emu " emu : Russell: Recollections [:25:2] [Gga]
Biraban had a wife, Patty. Her name might have been purely an English name, or perhaps an English spelling of an indigenous word. Some translation possibilities include ‘bite’, ‘more’ and ‘snake’, as the following references suggest:
"puttilliko" badi-li-gu = "to bite." bite : Tkld AWA Aust Voc [:61:51] [Awa]
"buttikaġ" badi-gang = "any animal; ass, ox" bite-thing animal: Tkld AWA Lex [:206:9] [Awa]
"butti" badi = "more; to do more ; to continue the action" keep on -badi = more: Tkld AWA Lex [:206:7] [Awa]
"buttêr" badir = "Carpet snake" snake carpet: Mathews DARK 1903 [:281.1:10.2] [Dark]
"Poteer" badiya = "Snake" snake : King, C.M. [:3:2] [BPI]
Amongst the mass of Threlkeld material there are revealing insights. One is provided in the following series of sample sentences. There was no commentary on the circumstances under which they were collected, but they follow one after the other, as if descriptive of a particular event or moment.
Minnahring tin be kah-kah-lah buk-kah?
minaring-din bi gagala baga
What is from thou wast furious.?
On what account was't thou so furious?
Ngukung tin bahng kahkahlah bukkah.
ngugang-din bang gagala baga
Wife from I was furious.
On account of Wife I was furious.
Minnahring tin ngahtohng. (an Idiom.)
What is from no one.
From no cause.
Minnabring ko be noun torah?
minaring-gu bi-nun durá
What is for thou her pierced?
What didst thou pierce her with?
Kotah ro, Wahre ko, Bibi to.
gadaru warayi-gu bibi-du
Waddy with, Spear for, Axe has.
With a Waddy; Spear The Axe has.
Minnahring tin be noun torah?
minaring-din bi-nun durá
What is from thou her pierced?
From what cause didst thou spear her?
New-wahrah kahn to bahng turah bounnoun.
nyuwara-gan-du bang durá bunun
Anger being have I pierced her.
Through anger, I speared her.
These are unchanged from the original, apart from the re-spelt second line in each group.
The following book on Egyptian hieroglyphs:
Budge, Ernest Alfred, Sir. 1958. Egyptian language: easy lessons in Egyptian hieroglyphics with sign list. London: Routhledge & Kegan Paul., page 114,
provides a glimpse at much the same subject.:
åu-f h·er Xat.bu taif h·emt
He slew his wife,
åu-f h·er Xaa - set na en åu
he threw her [to] the dogs’.
What can one say, other than what the French have done:
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Monday 24 January 2011