Friday, October 19, 2007

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua (née Foster) Obituary

Australian Aboriginal Studies 2007/1:p211-213
Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua
(née Foster)
On 6 July 2006 we saw the passing of
Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua (née Foster), a
Warumungu woman who had a wideranging
impact on linguistics and applied
linguistics for Aboriginal languages in the
Northern Territory, in a career spanning 30

She was born 17 June 1951 at the Freweena
Roadhouse, Rockhampton Downs,
in the Northern Territory, and grew up at
Warrabri (now Alekarenge (Ali Curung)).
Her father was known as Snowy Jampijimpa
Foster, and his family’s traditional country
is around the Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles)
area. Her mother, Ivy Tuala Napangardi
(or Tualla Nalli) Foster was related to
Warlpiri, Warlmanpa and Warumungu.
Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua’s dreaming was
Aakiy ‘bush-plum’, and her skin name was
Nangali (Warumungu), Nangala (Warlpiri)
or Apwerle (Kaytetye).

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua (also known
as Nangala), spoke many languages: she
learnt her parents’ language Warumungu,
her father’s language Kaytetye, and her
mother’s language Warlmanpa as well as
Warlpiri; she also learnt English at the
Rockhampton Station (Northern Territory).

She met her future husband when they
were fellow students at Batchelor College,
and they moved to his country at Ngukurr,
while continuing to visit her own relations
in the Tennant Creek area. In Ngukurr,
Nangala learnt to speak Kriol and some of
her husband’s mother’s language, Marra.

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua could communicate
with people from all walks of life
and challenged many cultural barriers
to complete a degree in teaching, and she
continued to teach all of her life.

Nangala earned a Bachelor of Education degree
in 1987 from Deakin University in the
‘D-BATE’ (Deakin-Batchelor Aboriginal
Education) program jointly with the then
Batchelor College. Along with Mandawuy
Yunupingu, she was among the first native
speakers of an Aboriginal language to do
so. When she graduated it was a source of
great pride and joy to her family, especially
her mother.

Her achievement was recognised. In
1987 she was named NAIDOC Aboriginal
Scholar of the year. In 1995 she was awarded
a Graduate Certificate in Education
(Hearing Impairment) from Batchelor
College; she also earned an Associate
Diploma in Applied Linguistics. Later
Nangala began working towards a Masters
degree and a Diploma in interpreting.

She was a brilliant teacher. Jane Simpson recalls
how in 1995 Nangala rescued a CALL
Warumungu language class by running
demonstration lessons, showing how to get
children interested, and drawing diagrams
labelled in Warumungu to explain her
approach. As a further tribute to her unfailing
commitment and enthusiasm, in 2005
she was chosen as leader for the Indigenous
Women’s Development Program for the
Office of Indigenous Policy.

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua was a linguist in
both senses of the word. She was a NAATI accredited
Warumungu/English and Kriol/
English interpreter, and believed in the
importance of understanding and identifying
cultural differences and prejudices
and exposing them as the underpinnings
of miscommunication between the ‘Anglo’
Australian community and the Indigenous
Australian population. Due to her in-depth
knowledge of English, her interpretations
were descriptive and complex and she
stayed true to the speaker’s individual way
of communicating.

Her exceptional accomplishments
and determination, as well as
humility, made her an inspiration to both

Nangala was also a language analyst and
had an obvious love of academic linguistics-
you could find her writing verb paradigms
in Warumungu or plant names
in Marra, explaining demonstratives or
speech act verbs in Kriol, or getting excited
about the concept of polysemy; why
should ‘beetle’, ‘charcoal’ and the ‘pupil
of an eye’ share a form in Warumungu,
she wondered. Her younger sister, Barbara
Foster, recalls collecting big old tins of
spaghetti and corn beef with Nangala when
they were children. They would take them
back to camp and Nangala would sit down
with people, including her grandparents,
under a shady tree and she would say ‘sound
these letters out’ they would sound them
out and Nangala would teach them how to
say it properly. She would also sit around the camp fire with the old people and spell
words out on the ground, they would then
sound out the words together until they got
the pronunciation right. She was a born
linguist, teacher and storyteller.

Nangala bridged the gap between the
Indigenous people of Australia and the
mainstream ‘Anglo’ world. She did this in
practical ways, by translating documents
related to health and the law into languages
that Indigenous Australians could access
more comfortably, and by dusting off the
Ngukurr Language Centre, both figuratively
and literally. Under her supervision from
2004 and driven by her vision and determination
the Ngukurr Language Centre has
flourished against many odds.

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua maintained
strong commitment both to her adopted
community of Ngukurr, and to the
communities where she came from. For
example, she read and checked her family’s
genealogy for the Warumungu Land Claim
(1993) and worked closely with the Central
Land Council. She returned to Karlu Karlu
(Devils Marbles) often for meetings. Her
last visit was in 2005; she was not well, but
spent two weeks there with her families
talking about the old times, hunting, bush
foods and medicines. She translated everything
that was said by her families speaking
in four different languages: Warumungu,
Warlpiri, Kaytetye and Alyawarr. Every
night she and the other women stayed up
late and sang the songs for the country.

Nangala was also an artist and craftswoman
of high calibre, and spent many
years painting for the Ngukurr Arts
centre, incorporating traditional dot painting
designs from central Australia with
contemporary colours and themes.

Mrs Kumunjayi Joshua will be sadly
missed, but her legacy is a strong one. She
inspired many people to learn — as well as
to teach. Her memory acts to remind us to
strive to overcome the challenges and prejudices
inherent in cross-cultural communication,
to live and work together in
harmony with mutual respect. She taught
— by example — to tirelessly support
endangered languages, and the rights and
voices of their speakers. She was brilliant,
diplomatic, kind and graceful.

Her untimely passing is a great loss not only to those
of us who were her friends and colleagues
but also to the linguistic community of
Australia. We have lost a talented, generous
and enthusiastic colleague, whose love for
languages was extraordinary.

This obituary was collated with the
assistance of Greg Dickson, Barbara
Nangala Foster; John Joshua, Francine
McCarthy, David Nash, Jane Simpson
and Kim Webeck.

S. Nicholls, Visiting Fulbright Scholar,
University of California, Santa Barbara, doctoral
candidate, School of Languages, Cultures
and Linguistics, University of New England,

(Reproduced here with the kind permission of AAS)


Blogger Catalin said...

What a lovely tribute to a truly inspirational person.

4:11 am  

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