26 January 2016

Biyal Biyal Australian National Anthem

Copyright ⓒ Jeremy Macdonald Steele 2016
Tuesday 19 January 2016
This work is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process, nor may any other exclusive right be exercised, without the permission of Jeremy Macdonald Steele, 107 Rosemead Road, Hornsby NSW 2077: as of 2016. 

How did this translation come about?
An Aboriginal singer-songwriter acquaintance sent an email inviting Your Amateur Researcher (YAR) to look at what he had just done. He had produced a draft of a translation of the Australian National Anthem. It was soon apparent that this was more a collection of concepts rather than a grammatical narrative. It prompted a new attempt, one that a speaker such as Mr Bennelong might have understood. A line-by-line consideration of this alternative translation follows, including the sources used for the Sydney language words in it.

Line 1 baraya-ba-nyi Australia-gal
Australians all let us rejoice
baraya is ‘to sing’ as can be seen from Fig. 3.
The third row in the table shows it suffixed with a past tense marker, and a bound pronoun: ‘thee’ (normally -nya).
Fig. 3 baraya: sing

In the anthem the future tense marker -ba is used, together with the bound pronoun for ‘we-all’.

There was no known word for Australia so the English word is used. Suffixed to it is -gal, denoting a group of people, as in:
Fig. 4 The -gal: the ‘people’ suffix

Line 2 ngyila gurung gurigarang
For we are young and free
The nominative or subject pronouns ‘I’ and ‘thou’, and their accusative counterparts ‘me’ and ‘thee’ are well known in both free and bound forms:
Fig. 5 Table of some singular pronouns

The archaic ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ usage is adopted to avoid of the ambiguity in modern English between singular and plural ‘you’.
As most of the recorded conversational situations in the early days of the European upheaval were of the you-me type, where one person was talking to another, it seems that most of the other pronouns did not get to be recorded. In particular you plural in both its forms of ‘you-two’ and ‘you-all’ seem totally missing, or are possibly there but never identified as such. Some of the other pronouns in the Sydney Language are uncertain, with lingering doubt between the we/us and the they/them forms. This leads to the matter of ngyila.
Fig. 6 The principal ngyila records

Despite Your Amateur Researcher’s own earlier interpretations in the yellow column, it seems that ngyila might have been ‘we’ rather than ‘they’. But let you dear reader, be the arbiter in resolving this dilemma. In Fig. 6 the top and bottom entries are the most clearly stated. Today, YAR favours the first of these, and is taking ngyila to mean ‘we-all’, with the ngyilu form meaning ‘we-all alone’, or ‘just us three’.

Next, in Aboriginal languages, there is the question of duality or plurality, a sophistication lacking in English. All except the first of the translations in the yellow column in the table opt for the dual ‘they-two’. This is largely because of the third entry there, about a man and his wife—hence the idea of just two people rather than more.

The last two examples given, manila and yanila, are related and can be considered together. But whether or not we are dealing with two or more here, is the meaning we or they?
Each of the lines in Fig. 6 represents a situation where something was happening. After the first example, all four situations can be read differently from the English translations provided. So, example by example, instead of the ‘they’ forms we might view the circumstances in terms of ‘we’, thus:
—come on, let’s play, let’s all of us (i.e. we-all) play;
—he says, my wife and I, this is what we do, we-two;
—‘Manila!’, shouts Anganángan (actually ngana-ngana, but that is another matter), we’ve caught one! That is, we-two, or we-all, have caught a fish;
—‘Yanila’, ‘we’re going’, might well have been what was said that Dawes heard. Dawes on seeing the people departing might have confirmed the moment to himself as ‘They’re going’, and hence his translation for the word.

But back to the Anthem. Line 2 begins ngyila: it means ‘we-all’, if you accept this reasoning.
The next two words in the line are not ‘young’ and ‘free’, for which there are no Sydney Languages records (and especially not for the abstract concept ‘free’):
Fig. 7 gurung child,  guri-garang glad

‘Child’ can reasonably stand for ‘young’; and if you are free, you might well be ‘happy’, ‘glad’ or ‘not angry’. It is a pity there is nothing to back up Dawes on gurigarang meaning ‘glad’. There are words for ‘anger’ that are faintly similar: gulara, wuru and yura, but that is all. But who is to question Dawes at this stage: he was there; he heard it; he wrote it down.

Line 3: bimal yaragal; ganu burug
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil
The sources for Line 3 are:
Fig. 8 earth yellow; full belly

The words in Fig. 8 have been chosen to represent the concepts ‘We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil’. As ‘wealth’ and ‘toil’ are abstract nouns for which no equivalents were recorded, perhaps it is reasonable to evoke a ‘full belly’ to convey the idea of being satisfied with one’s circumstances. If you should think it odd that quite dissimilar words should be used for ‘replete’, the answer might be that ganu perhaps implied ‘satisfied’ or even ‘vegetable food’; and that burug might be a mis-recording of barang meaning ‘belly’.

Line 4: ngura gari-garang-arayi
Our home is girt by sea

Home: A very useful word is ngura, for ‘place’, ‘country’, ‘camp’, and consequently ‘home’.

Having: The lampooned phrase ‘girt by sea’ can be considered as ‘having sea’, or ‘having sea around’. Concepts of ‘having’, and its contrasting ‘lacking’, are ubiquitous in Australian Aboriginal languages. However, although the First Fleeters and those afterwards must have heard it all the time, the word for ‘having’ was never identified for the Sydney Language. They heard the ‘lacking’ form often enough, -buni, and even realised it was sometimes rendered as -muni. However, in Wiradhuri, across the mountains and in other inland NSW languages, the word for ‘having’ is widely attested, as -arayi. YAR, without authority, is suggesting using this suffix for the ‘having’ function. The following table presents some support for this leap:
Fig. 9 -arayi / -iriyi: possibly indicating the proprietive suffix ‘having’

sea-having: Thus sea-having is proposed as ……-arayi. But what is the word for  ‘……’: sea? This is another Sydney Language dilemma. The word for ‘sea’ was not badu, which was used for ‘drinking water’. For ‘ocean’, some Aboriginal informants offered a word, biriwal, which might have meant ‘distant’, or even ‘huge’, both of which ideas may reasonably be associated with oceans. But in Sydney the word that repeatedly cropped up for ‘sea’ was garigarang:
Fig. 10 gara…: sea, deep / long / tall

The examples in Fig. 10 are persuasive that garigarang did mean ‘sea’. The fact that the word is uncannily similar to gurigarang ‘glad’ (or ‘not angry’) featured in Line 2  above we will have to accept as a coincidence.

The last two examples in Fig. 10 seem to indicate that the sea was perceived as being ‘deep’, and was linked to drowning:
Fig. 11 gura: drown, in deep water

Line 5 ngura badu dali mari-dulu
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
In the Line 5 translation, ngura ‘camp’ (met in the previous line) is used for ‘our land’; and  badu ‘drinking water’ and duli/dali ‘food’ are offered as equivalent to ‘nature’s gifts’. Likewise mari-dulu ‘plenty’ is suggested as a reasonable translation of  ‘abounds’. These are featured in the following table of sources:
Fig. 12 Sources for words occurring in Line 5

Line 6 dyara marama guwing
Of beauty rich and rare
Words recorded by Dawes for a sunset are proposed for the Anthem line about ‘beauty rich and rare’:
Fig. 13

Line 7 barani yagu baribugu
In history’s page, let every stage
Needless to say, they are no records for  either ‘history’s page’ of ‘letting every stage’. So what is suggested are the following to indicate a time sequence:
Fig. 14 Words for yesterday, today and tomorrow

‘Now’ or ‘today’ were recorded as both yagu and yaguna, with yagu being perhaps the commoner. -na was probably a suffix of unresolved significance.

Line 8 yan-ma-nyi Australia-gal
Advance Australia Fair.
No words are to be found in the records for such a concept as ‘advance Australia fair’, so for the Anthem translation it is proposed to use instead something like: ‘Australians, let’s get going!’ The Australians part, Australia-gal for ‘people of Australia’, was dealt with under Line 1 above.

In Line 2 Fig. 6 above, yan was seen as the verb ‘to go’. When conjugated in the future tense we have:
Fig. 15 We will go

First Fleeter David Collins, in this Fig. 15 example, records the ‘we-all’ bound pronoun as -nya. However, the more reliable Dawes obtained it precisely as -nyi.

Line 9 budyari baraya-ba-nyi
In joyful strains then let us sing
Once again, there nothing in the records for ‘joyful strains’, so an alternative idea must be proposed for this line. YAR has offered ‘good/well we-all will sing’, or idiomatically ‘let’s all sing well’. The verb  ‘to sing’ was met in the explanation for Line 1, so the only new word here is ‘good’. There are about 40 recordings of this word, from which collection the following is offered:
Fig. 16 budyari: ‘good’

Line 10 yan-ma-nyi Australia-gal
Advance Australia Fair
This last line is a repeat of Line 8.

Now the challenge is to sing the words, to match the rhythm of the English.

Jeremy Steele
Tuesday 26 January 2016

Grub for grub

Meeting some Tasmanians
It’s the year 1793, and the place later known as Tasmania. Ten years before the first European settlement to be established. There had been occasional European sightings and visits since 1642, and this was one such, by the French. It was the expedition, under Bruny d’Entrecasteaux, that was looking for the lost explorer La Perouse. They were in Recherche Bay, named after their own ship, on the south-east coast.
Fig. 1 Tasmanians in 1793 preparing food, by Piron

This painting by the artist Piron records the second of two encounters with the local people. Two of the French met 42 local inhabitants on the first occasion, and a larger group met 17 or so on the second. As can be seen, the Aboriginals wore no clothes. They led a hunting and gathering life style, which meant that they did not get their food from shops (there were none), or out of tins. And that some of the things that served as food people today might not much like the sound of.

Collecting words
The French took the opportunity of these friendly meetings to make lists of words, mostly body parts  and things that could be seen round about. A hundred or so words were collected, and Your Amateur Researcher (YAR) happens to have copies of four of the lists, made by the following crew members:
Willaumez senior, Ensign on the Recherche
Mérite, a volunteer on the Recherche
Riche, naturalist on the Esperance
Piron, artist on the Recherche
This last list was probably Piron’s from the signature, but you can decide:

Fig. 2 Illegible signature: Piron [?]

He is marked with the red arrow is this beginning of the list of the ship’s company. Two of the other list compilers are indicated with blue arrows

Fig. 3 On the Recherche: from:
Labillardière, Jacques Julien Houton de. Relation du Voyage à la Recherche de La Pérouse: Fait par Ordre de l’Assemblée Constituante pendant pes Années 1791, 1792 et pendant la 1ère. et la 2de. Année de la République Françoise. Tome Premier [Vol. I]. Paris: Chez H.J. Jansen, Imprimeur-Libraire, 1800.

Are the words correct?
When we see a word list compiled by someone on the spot, and when we see such remarks as that they checked for the meaning by asking various questions and repeating each word to make sure it was right, we tend to believe the compilers. And believe them we must, for how are we to know any differently? Except today we have computers and databases.
Here are words that look as though they sound in more or less the same way, taken down in 1793 during these encounters:
Fig. 4 baruwi: ‘insect’ [Mérite]

Fig. 5 baruwi: ‘caterpillar’ [Riche]

Fig. 6 baruwa: ‘eat’ [Riche]

Fig. 7 baruwa: ‘for me’ [Piron?]

In the last column you can see who collected the word. The first two examples (by Mérite and Riche) pretty well agree: baruwi means a caterpillar, or an insect. We might call it a ‘grub’. The last two (by Riche again and probably Piron) are given quite different meanings. What could account for this?
First baruwi might be different from baruwa. However, the records do not offer much immediate support for either ‘eat’ or the pronoun ‘for me’.  So could there be anything else to explain the meanings given?

Tasty morsel

Fig. 8 Offering a choice grub

Perhaps this: a person offers a tasty grub to another to eat. ‘For me?’, the other enquires.

Were ‘eat’ and ‘for me” complete misunderstandings of what was going on? This is admittedly sheer speculation. But how else can the wordlists sometimes be comprehended?

Jeremy Steele
Friday 18 December 2015



It is something of a thrill for Your Amateur Researcher (YAR) when a little bit of the curtain shrouding the mysteries of the Tasmanian vocabularies is pulled aside. Take as an example of this the following records for ‘sun’ collected by French sailors in Recherche Bay on 11 February 1793, and again on a second visit two days later:
Fig. 1 ‘sun’ according to Willaumez senior, Ensign on the Recherche

Fig. 2 ‘sun’ according to Fier [illegible signature: possibly Piron, draughtsman on the Recherche, or Pierson, astronomer on the Esperance]

Fig. 3  a second version of ‘sun’ according to Fier [illegible signature: possibly Piron, draughtsman on the Recherche, or Pierson, astronomer on the Esperance]

Fig. 4 ‘sun’ according to Mérite, volunteer on the Recherche

Fig. 5 ‘sun’ according to Riche, naturalist on the Esperance

French ships in Tasmania two centuries ago
What were those French ships doing in Van Diemen’s Land in 1793, so soon after the English settlement in Sydney in 1788? It is quite a story, and it is necessary to backtrack a little.
It is worth bearing in mind that during the period covered here, between 1783 and 1793, for a change England and France were not at war — but who on the other side of the world could really know the current political situation at any moment?
Anyway, this particular Tasmanian sideshow began in 1785 when the French explorer La Pérouse (Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse), under the sponsorship of the French king, Louis XVI, set off on a voyage of scientific discovery of the Pacific in two ships, the Bussoule and the Astrolabe.

The British First Fleet
They weren’t the only adventurers in those days. The British had finally assembled a convoy of 11 ships, containing mostly convicts and stores, for the purpose of setting up a colony on the other side of the world, in Botany Bay, ‘New Holland’—and to stake a claim to it. The fleet left Spithead, Portsmouth, on 13 May 1787, and after an 8-month voyage arrived safely in Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January the following year. The destination of Botany Bay was because of favourable comments made by by the James Cook expedition in the Endeavour 18 years earlier. High hopes of the suitability of this location  for the settlement, however, were to be dashed practically immediately on actual arrival there. This reality induced Governor Arthur Phillip the very next day, on 21 January, to look for somewhere better, setting out very early in a longboat, rowing northwards towards the inlet that Cook had noted and named Port Jackson. Phillip was to discover a stupendously better place, and on his return on 23 January he at once ordered the ships to get ready to transfer there. Guess what happened the very next day.

The French appear
On 24 January, to the ‘infinite surprise of everybody’, two European ships were seen just outside the heads to Botany Bay. This would have been nearly as remarkable as for Neil Armstrong to spot someone else springing about on the moon in July 1969. Well, a bit like that anyway: Phillip did know about the La Perouse expedition, and what was at once guessed in due course turned out to be the the reality and that these were indeed the La Perouse vessels. Were they hostile?

Transfer to Port Jackson
But the removal of the First Fleet northwards had already begun: Governor Phillip left on the Supply, together with four of the ‘transports’ (ships carrying the people), headed for Port Jackson, Phillip getting there the same day, 24 January.
All day on 25 January the French were thwarted by adverse conditions, but on 26 January finally anchored in Botany Bay. John Hunter, captain of the flagship Sirius, sent 2nd Lieutenant William Dawes, who was proficient in the French language, to make contact with the newcomers. For their part, La Perouse and his crews had expected to find the British settlement already well established and had hoped to replenish supplies from it. Instead he was startled to find they had only just arrived, and bizarrely were in the process of leaving again at the very moment of his own arrival. On the return of Dawes, Hunter in the Sirius, along with the remaining transports and storeships, with much difficulty owing to continuing adverse weather conditions, managed to get out of Botany Bay and reach for Port Jackson — leaving the French in the abandoned Botany Bay on their own.

French turmoil
The French were to stay there about six weeks, leaving on 10 March to return home. But alas it was not to be. They were never to be heard from again. This was to cause consternation in France.
There was other reason for consternation in that country too. The French Revolution began in 1789, the Bastille in Paris being ‘stormed’ on 14 July that year, now the national day. But, the missing La Perouse . . . In 1791, such was the anxiety about La Perouse by then, that a search was mounted for him, under Bruny d’Entecasteaux, in two ships, the Recherche and the Esperance.
Back home in France the Revolution well under way. By September 1792 the monarchy had been overthrown and a republic established. They were heady days: in fact the guillotine had been introduced in April that year. And on 21 January 1793, Louis XVI was executed by this means, in what is now the Place de la Concorde. On his way to the scaffold he stoically enquired: ‘A-t-on des nouvelles de monsieur de Lapérouse ?” (Is there any news of La Perouse?’) Famous last words. It was not until 1826 was it to be discovered that disaster had overtaken the the French ships and crew, in the Solomon Islands.

La Perouse search expedition
Meanwhile d’Entecasteaux and his search party were having their own adventures and difficulties in southern oceans. His first visit to Recherche Bay in Tasmania was in May 1791, followed by a second on 22 January 1793. In the interval he had been to New Caledonia, Indonesia and Cape Leeuwin in south-west WA. He had even passed the Solomon Islands, little knowing he was so close to the wrecked La Perouse ships.
It was on this second visit to the bay named after d’Entecasteaux’s own ship Recherche that the above records were taken.

Tasmanian vocabularies
Two of the records are for panubere and two for panumere. While they may seem to be different in reality they are not greatly. The sounds for the letters ‘m’ and ‘b’ are formed in much the same way, with the lips together and a bit of a puff after. They can often be confused as a consequence. In the case of these two words, for the sake of argument, let’s assume the proper version is panubere, respelt as banubiri.
banubiri is something of a long word, and it is reasonable to assume it might actually be two run together. banu biri perhaps? Possibly. There are quite a few biri words, meaning ‘breast’, ‘foot’, ‘nail’ (as in finger / toe-nail), and even ‘presently’, among other meanings. However, it is another word altogether that seems more likely: nubiri, making the division of banubiri: ba nubiri. Two examples of the second part of the word, nubiri, should suffice to give its meaning:
Fig. 6 nubiri: ‘eye’

If the sun might reasonably be perceived as an ‘eye’  in the sky, then what might the preceding ba in the combination ba-nubiri represent? A great many words in Tasmanian languages begin with ba, and virtually any might be a candidate for offering a meaning for the sky–eye combination. One of the more promising of these possibilities is bagana: ‘man’. Could it be a man’s eye in the sky? Maybe . . . at least until the database offered a more attractive alternative:
Fig. 7: ba: ‘big’

In the source column in Fig. 7 above, the small ‘st’ after ‘Plomley’ refers to Charles Sterling. Of this man the document collector, the Rev. T.H. Braim, wrote in about 1832:
“It is now impossible to remedy the loss which has been sustained by Sterling’s death: he was a young man who had made the aboriginal languages his study, and had reduced them to some sort of order.”
From this accolade it might be assumed that Sterling was correct in claiming ba to mean ‘big’.
When that concept is accepted, new ways emerge for regarding some ‘big thing’ ba… words. Consider the following:
Fig. 8: ‘big’ things beginning ba…

Of these only the first, ba-gana, is truly satisfying. As gani / gana is a common word for ‘speak’, ba-gana can be literally translated as ‘big speak’, and so equivalent to ‘call’ or ‘shout’.
The examples in Fig. 8 constitute a very select list. There are many other ba… words that have no likely link to the ‘big’ concept. Nevertheless it is indisputable that ‘sea’, ‘porpoise’ and ‘bullcow’ (one of several invented terms in the Bayala databases) are big entities; as is ‘four’ to those who regard numbers greater than two or three as ‘plenty’. And a ‘man’ might well be big, too, from some points of view.

Jeremy Steele
Thursday 17 December 2015



The word marama in the Tasmanian word lists caught the attention again today. The meaning given for it is ‘star’.

No-one quite knows when the last person was able to walk from the Australian mainland to Tasmania. Why it was possible at all was because it was the ice age — or more precisely the last ice age. In fact we are still in the remnants of that ice age, because ice is still piled up, sometimes kilometres thick it is said, in Antarctica. If it all melted, they say, sea levels would rise, around 60 metres. Your Amateur Researcher (YAR) really knows nothing of all this, but this much can be reasonably surmised. If many of the land masses on the planet in the last ice age looked like Antarctica today, with ice stacked on them say to a depth of two kilometres, and if the same amount of water existed then as now in one form or another, there would be lots of it on the land, and correspondingly much less in the oceans. Everywhere, not just in the Bass Strait. So often you could get from one place to another without a boat.
But eventually the ice age mostly went away, and water returned to the oceans. The sea levels rose and Tasmania was isolated. Thus the Aboriginals who had lived there for say 40 000 years were separated from the rest — let’s say 10 000 years ago. That’s twice the time from the building of the Pyramids to the present. A huge long time, and all the while with nothing ever written down. Now back to today.

So marama means ‘star’, according to the records:
Fig. 1 Marama: stars

This appears to be the record that various others have subsequently copied. The author of it was one Jorgen Jorgenson, who produced one of the best lists of Tasmanian words. This actual record is from the papers of T.H. Braim, held by the Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW, reference MLA 614). It is in turn recorded on the Tasmanian Bayala Database as follows:
Fig. 2 marama: ‘star’

‘T-W’ (i.e. Tasmania West) in the ‘Source’ column reveals that the word was taken down on the western side of the island.
So what? Well, for those who might wonder whether the Tasmanian languages arose entirely separately from those on the mainland, there is the following evidence, or coincidence, to consider.

In the Anon notebook, compiled by one or more of the First Fleeters around 1790-91, there is the following entry:
Fig. 3 ‘The sun setting red’

This record also features in the Bayala databases, the one entitled ALLSYD, as follows:
Fig. 4: dyara marama guwing: red shine sun

The question arises, which actual word means what?

While there are several other records suggesting that dyara means ‘bone’ and ‘distress’, there are also the following where it (or a word like it) indicates ‘redness’:
Fig. 5: dyara: red

While YAR could readily provide a comprehensive table to show that guwing means  ‘sun’, the following simplest one will do:
Fig. 6: guwing: ‘sun’

So that leaves marama, for which the meaning suggested in the yellow column of (Tasmania) Fig. 2 is ‘star’, and in (Sydney) Fig. 4, ‘shine’. Stars shine, that’s a fact. And it could be just a coincidence that the same word for these ideas is used by different languages far apart in space, and by languages far apart in time (Sydney language: AD 1790; Tasmanian: from pre ice age).

More coincidences
Can it also be a coincidence that the Wiradhuri language [Wira] in central NSW, and Muruwari  [Mrwi] up on the Queensland border, also have words identical or similar to marama for ‘shine’ / ‘star’, as indicated in the table below?
Fig. 7 Inland examples of ‘shine’, ‘star’

While ‘star’ and ‘shine’  are from the point of view of modern speakers of English — and other languages — quite different concepts, Aboriginal people might well have used one word for both ideas. Stars do shine. And when Aboriginal informants were asked what those little lights in the night sky were they might have stated the obvious: ‘Shine’.
Perhaps marama is the only such example of a trace of the mainland in Tasmanian languages. In fact it is not. Other words with mainland links include dark, dive, eat, eye, fear, laugh, path, quick, rise, swim, tongue and others. Some of these might possibly have been recorded from Sydney men who had been involuntary visitors to Van Diemen’s Land in the early days. In some such way, ‘kangaroo’ from far north Queensland was recorded in Recherche Bay in south-east Tasmania in the 1790s. However, it would seem unlikely that all such words can have been imports of this sort, and that some at least must have been residual forms from the ancient Australian language presumed to have been common across much of the land mass in prehistoric times.

Jeremy Steele
Monday 14 December 2015