The People and their Traditional Country
Kurrama country is traditionally around the Hamersley Range area from Marandoo and Tom Price to Palm Springs in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Traditional land also extended along Duck Creek, around Boolgeeda Creek, the western arm of the Beasley River down to Cajuput Spring, and around Red Hill.
The documentary Exile and the Kingdom is a comprehensive account of the experiences of the Kurrama, Yindjibarndi, Ngarluma and Banyjima people of Roebourne from pre-colonial times to the 1990s.
In 2002 there were estimated to be less than 10 Kurrama speakers left. Now, that number will be less but is unknown. There are many more Kurrama people who have a partial or passive understanding of the language. Other people identify as being of Kurrama heritage and do not speak the language or speak other languages after marrying into other language groups.
Language Resources and Recordings
Linguist Alan Dench worked with the Kurrama community from 1990 onwards. The Kurrama Elders Group, including the late Peter Stevens, Nelson Hughes, Algy Paterson and Judy July, worked with Dench on recording their language. Texts written by Dench were used by Wangka Maya Language Centre in 2006 to produce the Kurrama Dictionary and Sketch Grammar.
Spinifex seeds after summer rain in Kurrama traditional country. (Picture by Nadine Hicks)
Kurrama is part of the Pama-Nyungan language family, a large group of languages spread over much of the continent. It belongs to the Ngayarda subgroup of languages along with Ngarla, Nyamal. Palyku, Nyiyaparli, Banyjima, Yindjibarndi, Ngarluma, Kariyarra, Martuthunira, Nhuwala and Jurruru. Kurrama is closely related to Yindjibarndi as it shares a very substantial amount of vocabulary as well as grammatical and phonological features.
The language has been spelt as Guruma, Kurama, Karama, Karima, Kerama, Korama and Korima. There may be as many as five variations of Kurrama being Yarnarri, Yinyjiwarnti Kurrama, Mijirranypa, Marntartka and Ngamangamara.
Written Examples of the Kurrama Language
Jartawarrinha nyimpanhayu, nhawuyangaarnukurtawa.
The old lady got a shock, being seen so clearly like that.
Thurlaanpanhanu ngayu yayuwarrinha, thurturtkurta.
Poor old aunty recognised me alright, straight away.
Ngaamatjurntumarnu warrungkamuwarntura kayuluwartayi, kartpatkayi pawarta.
I’d round them up each morning and take them to water.
Kamungungulinguyu nyinta parni nhaampa nyinku yurntaawayhuyuwarnu pirntu.
If you get hungry, here’s a little bit of flour.