Saturday, September 02, 2006


My baba (NJ) passed away suddenly and since she was/is such an integral part of my work and life in Ngukurr I couldn't not write about it, on the other hand I couldn't write about it either. But I have decided now that I should. Because it illustrates a point- at least to myself. That there is no possibility of doing this kind of work without being faced with huge ethical, political and emotional challenges. Dealing with N's death isn't a challenge- it is a change in the world, a huge shift from my perspective from having her in it, interacting with everything and now it is no loner that way.

But one of projects we did together in May was translating the story of Rheumatic Heart Fever into Kriol ( conceptually and literally) so that Kriol speaking people with the disease would have better access to the information they needed to understand the treatments offered by whitefellas and how to manage it. It seems to me an awful irony that my baba should pass away so young- in a way that might have been prevented if there was more information around and accessible on how to manage her illness(es)... and that there is some kind of insidious war going on here with the nastiest weapons being the lack of access to, firstly education and also professional legal and health assistance, defeating even someone like my baba who was extremely well educated.

Or even the acknowledgement that people who come from the Kriol speaking world ( among others I'm sure) actually don't truly have access to these services and the cause of that issue is not being honestly addressed. There really needs to be much much more open dialogue between the indigenous people in communities like Ngukurr and the wider Australian population, and I am sure many people agree-but I feel like unless people are actually actively trying to engage in that in a meaningful way- really trying to do it, really trying to listen it just won't ever happen. I feel like it is the mode of this dialogue that is important, that there isn't an easy way for people to communicate without feeling confused or shy or just not being able to get a message across or interpret the one they are hearing.
N knew that and she was working towards remedying it, and now that I feel like she has given me some direction, I want to work at it too.

Reading through my blog I can see right from the start she was there with me in her way. Listening to me, including me, teaching me, it wasn't really until the last two trips to Ngukurr that she became explicitly so. That we discussed in detail the work I was doing ( we were doing), issues with Kriol, interpreting giving a voice to speakers of endangered languages and minority groups and understanding cross-cultural communication from both perspectives.

I have many beautiful memories of sitting many times with her watching as she talked about things and made necklaces, or cooked kangaroo tails, or painted or typed up ideas. She was always teaching me things, asking me things, directing me.. I suppose most importantly she was proud of me. She told me would come to my graduation - and only a month or so before she died her and I were planning on her coming to Brisbane to the awards dinner ( because she had been as much a part of my work as my supervisors).

I feel like she just got me ( and the language centre for that matter) off to a good start and then left us- much too soon.

It made the ALI (LINGQ) conference difficult- and since then- so much of the data I have was from working with her. Most of it is written, not audio but it is still difficult to bring myself to go through it as thoroughly as I need to. I miss her. I wish she was here with me, or at least that she would be there in Ngukurr when I go back, that I could ring her up and tell her about things here in New Mexico, about the languages and the people.

So thanks Baba for the many many years of tireless work, I know I wasn't the first linguist you trained, you will continue to influence and inspire people and ideas for a very long time yet to come.


Anonymous jane said...

Thank you. She was a kind, intelligent and unusual person who broke many barriers - along with M Yunupingu, she was I believe the first native speaker of a traditional language to graduate with a university degree in teaching . Would you feel able to coordinate an obituary - say for the Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal, or the Linguistics Society? As was done for the late Ephraim Bani? Showing the respect of the linguistics community? SSILA often does this for speakers of indigenous languages of the Americas, and they act as records, reminders and marks of respect.

9:36 am  
Blogger Sophie said...

Jane, I would be more than happy to co-ordinate an obituary- perhaps you and David and Greg (and language centre mob) and anyone else might want to contribute something. I will write something and send it around. I will try and get in touch with JBJ about it too.

4:06 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home