The People and their Traditional Country
Nyamal country traditionally covers an area east of the coastal Kariyarra country, inland from the town of Port Hedland Western Australia. It encompasses the towns of Marble Bar and Nullagine and runs north past the Oakover River to the borders of Manyjilyjarra, Warnman, Nyangumarta and Ngarla country and south past the Shaw River.
There are at least two variations of the Nyamal language: Punyju Nyamal is spoken in the western region of Nyamal country more towards the coast, and Wirtakarri is based in Marble Bar and the eastern region of Nyamal country, towards the Great Sandy Desert. Further work needs to be done to identify the source of these variations and their geographic regions.
There are less than 10 speakers of the language, but many more people have a partial or passive understanding of the language, or identify as being of Nyamal descent.
Nyamal elder Peter Coppin (dec) described his connections to and love of Nyamal land and told his life story in the publication Kangkushot. Mr Coppin was one of the leaders of the 1946 Pilbara pastoral workers strike, the first strike by Aboriginal people in Australia. His leadership of this historic event has now been recognised with the naming of Peter Coppin Street in the Canberra suburb of Bonner.
In his book Bee Hill River Man, Nyamal man Jack McPhee (dec) tells the story of his life in the Pilbara and provides information about his language as well as the development of the town of Port Hedland.
Nyamal country along the Coongan River near Marble Bar. (Picture by Eleonora Deak)
Language Resources and Recordings
Many Nyamal speakers have recorded their language, including Biddy Norman, Dann Murphy, Teddy Allen (dec), Alice Mitchell, Linda Mitchell and others. The first records of Nyamal language being recorded or written are from Fink in 1960. Klokeid and O’Grady conducted recordings in 1967 and Dench recorded texts and songs in 1992. Wangka Maya Language Centre produced the Nyamal Dictionary and Nyamal Interactive Dictionary in 2007.
Nyamal is classified as a Pama-Nyungan language of the south-west (nyungic) group. It belongs to the Ngayarta family along with a number of other languages. Those languages are Ngarla, Banyjima, Kurrama, Yindjibarndi, Ngarluma, Palyku, Kariyarra, Martuthunira, Nhuwala, Jurruru and possibly Nyiyaparli and Yaburarra.
There are two variations of Nyamal, commonly known as Punyju and Wirtakarri Nyamal, though they are also referred to as High and Low Nyamal respectively. There is also a possible third variation known as Hills Nyamal, though more work needs to be done to confirm this.
Written Examples of the Language
Palangunya jarrunpa puntala warrakumungani.
That man is coming to work.
Yunta yanta japalkarni.
You go and eat.
Palungunya jilya murtupaliyanku papakarni.
That little child is running to get some water.
Yampali jinangu ngali parraliji mankula.
Let (us two) go look for vegetable food.
Ngajuku ngarlu purnpalpa.
My stomach is sick/ aching.
Palangunya mankula wirrarra japalyapa.
She’s skinny because she hasn’t eaten.