Last changed 10 March 2000.


Linguistic type

Mudburra is an agglutinating language classified as an Eastern Ngumbin language in the Pama-Nyungan family. It is of the "Northern Western Desert type" in that nominal and verbal inflexion is by suffixation, nominals are obligatorily case-marked according to an Ergative-Dative scheme with unmarked Absolutive, there is not a strict word order, and a key part of the sentence is a pronominal enclitic sequence. Like languages to its north, Mudburra has only a small number (about thirty) of verb roots.

Brief history

Buchanan 1933 gives some of the flavour of the "white frontier" of the cattle industry in the region from the late 19th century, and includes (p.162) one distinctively Mudburra utterance: "wah goo-nee cuddybah" (no white man), sc. wakurni kardiba.

The Mudburra have been centrally involved in two land claims, and peripherally in at least three others. The two main claims were around Top Springs in 1979 (McConvell and Palmer 1979, Aboriginal Land Commission 1980) and around Murranji Bore in 1980-83 (Sutton, Coltheart and McGrath 1983), and both have resulted in the Mudburra gaining title to some of their land. The land claim documents include a good coverage of the history of the area.

The other claims, which also returned some land to the Mudburra and their southern neighbours, were a 1976 claim (McConvell 1976, 1977) and a 1980 claim (Nash 1980, Aboriginal Land Commission 1982). Part of the latter claim including some of the south-west part of Mudburra country adjacent to Cattle Creek Pastoral Lease was not recommended for grant, and was the subject of a Repeat Land Claim lodged in 1991, resulting in the Wampana-Karlantijpa Aboriginal Land Trust.

In 1991 the Mudburra received title to a small excision from Newcastle Waters Pastoral Lease at Union Paddock, the site of an strike camp of Aboriginal station labour in 1966 just before the more famous "walk off" at Wave Hill (see for instance Hardy 1968).

The primary source is McConvell 1974 etc., which was processed by me 1983-84, and records primarily the western dialect.  Rebecca Green has continued work on the language with people at Elliott and Marlinja.  John Avery has been recording and studying men's singing.

Past investigations

Baldwin Spencer and F.J. Gillen. Bingongina subsection terms Spencer and Gillen. 1904 [1969]. Name repeated by Tindale (1974), with no additional evidence (pers. comm., c1979)
R.H. Mathews Chingalee includes some Mudburra words Mathews 1901, Chadwick 1972
Michael Terry a short vocabulary of "Mootburra" (Terry 1926, 1927)
WEH Stanner on his first trip to the Northern Territory recorded some Mudburra terminology at Powell Creek and Newcastle Waters, primarily kin terms, genealogies, and ngurlu terms. Stanner 1934, 1979.
Arthur Capell brief comparative vocabularies, grammatical study, outline phonetics, analysis of suffixing languages, discusses Mudburra group centred around Wave Hill Capell 1939-40, 1940, 1952, 1962, 1971
Kenneth L Hale, Elliott Includes ca.144 Mudburra words. Mutpurra and Tyingilu simultaneously Hale 1959-60
Neil Chadwick Chadwick 1972, 1973, 1979, 1984
Ann Curnow word list SIL-AAIB. Curnow 1971.
Velma Leeding Word lists. Leeding 1971a,b.
Patrick McConvell Wattie Creek. McConvell 1974 etc, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1988 [1990], and land claims
Michael Ray a two-week survey SIL-AAIB. Ray 1976.
1976, 1978.
Tasaku Tsunoda. Tsunoda 1976, 1978.
David Nash recorded about 30 words said to be of Pinkangarna. Nash 1978
Lucy Parrish sketch grammar and word list IAD (based on field notes by P. McConvell). Parrish 1980a,b
1980, 1983, 1984
Peter Sutton recorded some eastern Mudburra in the course of preparing the traditional land claim in the Murranji area. Sutton 1980; Sutton, Coltheart & McGrath 1983
David Nash word list. Nash 1980-81, Nash (ed.) 1981, Nash and Simpson 1981. Also sporadic recording of Mudburra 1977-92, Nash notebooks and tapes.
Adam Kendon sign language Elliott .Kendon 1984, 1988.
1984 June
David Glasgow, survey of the central Northern Territory. Glasgow 1984.
September. Batchelor College. Neil Chadwick. Ulamari and Sandy 1984.
Deborah Bird Rose recorded western Mudburra flora terms while living at Yarralin. Rose 1986.
John Avery recorded kujika at Elliott.
CCNT botanists and Aboriginal health workers collected bush medicine data at many NT communities including Elliott. Barr et al 1988, Albert 1992.
1990 November
CALL, Batchelor College. Gavan Breen worked through graded vocabulary with speakers from Elliott at Borroloola. Breen 1991.
1991 winter
Deborah Bird Rose assisting Darrell Lewis's documentation of the Murranji Track recorded some eastern Mudburra flora terms and place names. Lewis 1992.
Glenn M. Wightman, a botanist with the CCNT, collected material at Elliott for a Mudburra ethnobotany booklet. Wightman et al 1992.
Robert Hoogenraad, NT Department of Education survey of Barkly region languages. Hoogenraad 1993.
Mudburra Learner's Guide (Draft). NT Department of Education.  Begun by David Nash; continued by Rebecca Green.


Aboriginal Land Commission. [Toohey, John.] 1980. Yingawunarri (Old Top Springs) Mudbura land claim. Canberra : Australian Government Publishing Service. Parliamentary paper (Australia. Parliament) ; no. 75/1980.

Aboriginal Land Commission. [Toohey, John.] 1982. Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Mudbura, and Warumungu land claim : report by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Mr Justice Toohey, to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and to the Administrator of the Northern Territory. Canberra : Australian Govt. Pub. Service. Parliamentary paper (Australia. Parliament) ; no. 165/1982.

Albert, Claudette. 1992. How Bush Medicine is still used today in Kulumindini. Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal 16.6(Nov/Dec),4-5. [4 flora terms]

Barr, Andy, Joan Chapman, Nick Smith & Maree Beveridge. 1988. Traditional Bush Medicines. An Aboriginal Pharmacopoeia. Aboriginal Communities of the Northern Territory of Australia. ISBN 0 86436 167 X 256pp. Richmond, Vic.: Greenhouse Publications. [9 terms]

Breen, Gavan. 1991. Mudburra literacy course material. [Graded lists extracted from Nash's wordlist, with reactions from speakers from Elliott at Borroloola, November 1990.] [80 additional items.] 16k machine-readable data file. Deposited at AIATSIS.

Buchanan, Gordon. 1933. Packhorse and Waterhole. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Capell, A. 1939-40. The classification of languages in north and north-west Australia. Oceania 10.3:241-272, 10.4:404-433. tbls. maps. [brief comparative vocabularies, grammatical study, outline phonetics]

---------- 1940. The languages of North-West Australia. Mankind 2.9:325. [analysis of suffixing languages, discusses Mudburra group centred around Wave Hill]

---------- 1952. The Wailbri through their own eyes. Oceania 23.2:110-132. [brief comparative vocabulary in 6 languages] [reprinted as Capell 1962]

---------- 1962. Waljbiri grammar, p.15-50 in Some Linguistic Types in Australia. Handbook of Australian Languages, Part II. Oceania Linguistic Monographs No. 7. Sydney: University of Sydney. [reprints Capell 1952]

---------- 1971. Word lists: Gurindji or Mudbura. 4p. SIL. (AIATSIS Library p10708)

Chadwick, Neil. 1972. Mathew's Chingalee vocabulary: appraisal and comments. Oceania 42.4:276-282. [commentary on Mathews, 1901 vocabulary of Jingilu; includes some Mudburra words]

---------- 1973. Survey materials. Linguistic survey of some townships & stations on or near the Barkly Tablelands. August 1973. ms. AIATSIS Library pMs 331.

---------- 1979. The West Barkly languages: an outline sketch, pp.653-711 in Australian Linguistic Studies, ed. by S.A. Wurm Pacific Linguistics C.54. [includes some Mudburra words]

---------- 1984 [1986?]. Reasons for language decline in the east central Northern Territory, Australia. Working Papers in Language & Linguistics 18 (December 1984), 1-37.

Curnow, Ann. 1971. Mudbra AIAS word list. 19p. xerox ts. SIL-AAIB Library.

Glasgow, David. 1984. Report on survey of the central Northern Territory, pp.113-152 in Language Survey, ed. by J. Hudson & N. Pym. Work Papers of SIL-AAB Series B Volume 11. June 1984. xi+167pp. Darwin: Summer Institute of Linguistics Australian Aborigines Branch. ISBN 0 86892 312 5

Hale, Kenneth L. 1959-60. Mutpurra and Tyingilu field notes. 27p. ms. [Elliott], (AIATSIS Library pMs 3034) Tape #LA 4555 (Deposited at AIATSIS) [Includes ca.144 Mudburra words] [Typed version in practical orthography by David Nash, 1980?.]

---------- 1959-60. Mutpurra (Tyingilu). (inf. Tommy tyimara) Ms. pp.45-55.

Hardy, Frank. 1968 [1978]. The Unlucky Australians. Melbourne, Nelson. London: Pan Books. 351pp.

Hoogenraad, Robert. 1993. [survey] NT Department of Education.

Kendon, Adam. 1984. Mudbura sign language. VHS video cassettes, transcriptions. Elliott.

---------- 1988. Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia: Cultural Semiotic and Communicative Perspectives. xviii+542pp. Cambridge University Press.

Leeding, Velma J. 1971a. Word lists: Gurindji or Mudbura. 4p. SIL. (AIATSIS Library p 10708)

---------- 1971b. Word lists: Mudbura and Ngarinman. 14p. ts. SIL. (AIATSIS Library p 10707)

Lewis, Darrell. 1992. The Ghost Road of the Drovers. Report on the history and historic sites of the Murranji Stock Route. Prepared for the National Trust of Australia (N.T.). iv+214pp.

McConvell, Patrick. 1974. Mudbura texts: tape transcriptions of field-work. ms. (AIATSIS Library p 10707)

---------- 1974- Tape transcriptions 1974- (7 vols.) (AIATSIS Library Ms 284, and associated tapes, with contents as in "sheaf catalogue"; option A1,B2) Typed, processed by David Nash, 1983-84.

---------- 1974-5?. Mudbura notebooks (4) (AIATSIS Library Ms 2746, AIAS)

---------- 1975. Mudbura vocabulary and sentences. 324p. ms., xeroxed. Wattie Creek.

---------- 1976. The Aborigines of the northern Tanami area, Northern Territory. 22p. xeroxed ts. Darwin. (AIATSIS Library pA3 44; option A3b;B1)

---------- 1977. The Mudbura of Montejinnie Station, N.T. [country, dreamings]. [1]+53 l. (AIATSIS Library pA3 94; option A3b;B1 Secret/sacred.

---------- 1980. Hierarchical variation in pronominal clitic attachment in the Eastern Ngumbin languages, pp. 31-118 in Australian Linguistic Studies. Papers in Australian Linguistics No. 13, ed. by S.A. Wurm. Pacific Linguistics A.59

---------- 1985. The origin of subsections in northern Australia. Oceania 56,1-33.

---------- 1986. Time perspective in Aboriginal Australian culture: two approaches to the origin of subsections. Aboriginal History 9:1,53-80.

---------- 1988 [1990]. Nasal Cluster Dissimilation and constraints on phonological variables in Gurindji and related languages, pp. 135-165 in Aboriginal Linguistics 1, ed. by Nicholas Evans and Steve Johnson. ISSN 1034-5140 ISBN 0 85834 867 G Armidale: Department of Linguistics, University of New England.

---------- 1993. [-nasal] spreading in Gurindji and related Australian languages. 46+[2]pp. ts., NTU, February 1993.

McConvell, Patrick & Arthur B. Palmer. 1979. A claim to an area of traditional land by the Mudbura traditional owners July 1979 / prepared ... at the instruction of the Northern Land Council on behalf of the Mudbura. Cover-title: Yingawunarri Mudbura land claim. Bibliography: p. 123-125. Darwin, ill., maps, col. pl. [Includes issue of Land rights news, no. 26, May 1979.]

Mathews, R.H. 1901. Ethnological Notes on the Aboriginal Tribes of the Northern Territory. Queensland Geographical Journal. 16,69-89. [See Chadwick 1972]

Merlan, Francesca. 1990 Wardaman vocabulary. Preliminary printout, May 1990. Deposited at AIAS Library.

Nash, David. 1978. Pinkangarna, transcription of field tape 21A. 1p. ts. (AIATSIS Library) [about 30 words said to be of Pinkangarna]

---------- 1980. A Traditional Land Claim by the Warlmanpa, Warlpiri, Mudbura and Warumungu Traditional Owners. Alice Springs: Central Land Council.

---------- 1980-81. Mudbura word list and tape transcription Tape 3.5B, 29/10/1980. 6pp. ts. July 1981, from notebook 16.37-44. (AIATSIS Library)

---------- 1981. (ed.) Sourcebook for Central Australian Languages. Material compiled by Kathy Menning. Pilot edition, November. Alice Springs: IAD.

---------- 1984. Mudbura Vocabulary based on P. McConvell's Mudbura notes 1974-76. [Alphabetical, and by semantic domain.] Computer printout. 22 November 1984. (AIATSIS Library) 1991 revised machine-readable data file. Deposited at AIATSIS.

Nash, David and Jane Simpson. 1981. "No-name" in central Australia, pp. 165-77 in Papers from the Parasession on Language and Behavior, ed. by Carrie S. Masek et al. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.  * some additional references

Nordlinger, Rachel. 1990. A sketch grammar of Bilinara. Honours thesis, Department of Linguistics, University of Melbourne. 139pp.

Northern Territory. Welfare Ordinance. 1957. Register of Wards. NT Government Gazette No. 19B 13th May 1957.

Parrish, Lucy. 1980a. Mutpurra sketch grammar. (based on field notes by P. McConvell). 11p. ts. IAD Library.

---------- 1980b. Mutpurra word list. (based on field notes by P. McConvell). 10p. ts. IAD Library.

Ray, Michael. 1976. Gurintji/Mutburra word list for a two-week survey. 8p. xeroxed ms. SIL-AAIB Library.

Rose, Deborah. 1986. Mudburra floral terms. Unpublished machine-readable data file, and printout 1/12/1986.

Simpson, Jane. 1990. A note on an inversion marker in Warumungu pronominal clitics, pp. 259-269 in Language and History: Essays in honour of Luise Hercus, ed. by Peter Austin, R.M.W. Dixon, Tom Dutton and Isobel White. Pacific Linguistics C-116. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, RSPacS, ANU.

Spencer, Baldwin & F.J. Gillen. 1904. The Northern Tribes of Central Australia. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd. Reprinted 1969, Oosterhout, N.B., The Netherlands: Anthropological Publications. [Bingongina subsection terms]

Stanner, W.E.H. 1934. 1934-35 Notebook 1 17/5/34-31/7/34. [1934 entry in] 1957 Notebook 4 22-23/10/57. WEH Stanner Papers Sub-collection E, AIATSIS. [restricted]

Stanner, W.E.H. 1979. Report on field work in north central and northern Australia 1934-5. Microfiche No. 1. AIAS

Sutton, Peter. 1980. (Field notes including material on Mudburra and Kwarandji.)

Sutton, Peter, L. Coltheart & Anne McGrath. 1983. The Murranji Land Claim. 156pp. Darwin: The Northern Land Council. [Contains: Peter Sutton: An Aboriginal claim to unalienated Crown Land on the Murranji Track (Northern Territory), pp.51-156; Lenore Coltheart and Ann McGrath: Intruders, work and land: an historical overview, pp.2-50]

Terry, Michael. 1926. A surgical operation as performed by the Boonarra tribe of northern Australia, and a short vocabulary of the languages of some northern Australian tribes. Man 26:193-194. pls. [short list of words from Mootburra, Coorinji, Manoo and Boonarra]

---------- 1927. Through a Land of Promise, with gun, car and camera in the heart of northern Australia. London: Herbert Jenkins Ltd. [p.331: short list of words from Mootburra, Coorinji, Manoo and Boonarra, p.332: map]

Tindale, Norman B. 1974. Aboriginal Tribes of Australia. Canberra: ANU Press.

Tsunoda, Tasaku. 1976. Mudbura field notes. 13-19 August 1976. Part (B)(2) ll.12,13,20,38 (AIATSIS Library Ms 1381). Field tapes recorded at Nicholson Station 76/6 (10-11 Aug 1976), 76/7 (11 Aug), 76/8 (11-12 Aug), 76/11 (13-14 Aug), 76/13 (16-17 Aug), 78/2(28-29 Nov 1978).

Ulamari, Harold & Janet Sandy. 1984. Jingulu and Kuwaarrangu Wordbook. Batchelor College, September 1984. Helped by Neil Chadwick. Printed by Educational Media Unit Batchelor College. [12 drawings and pairs of words] Batchelor, NT: Batchelor College.

Wightman, Glenn M., Dilkbarri Dixon, Lorraine Williams & Injimadi Dalywaters. 1992. Mudburra Ethnobotany. Aboriginal Plant Use from Kulumindini (Elliott) Northern Australia. Palmerston, N.T. : Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory. 44p. ISBN 0 7245 2707 9. Northern Territory Botanical Bulletin no. 14. ISSN 0314-1810.

some additional references

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