About 250 different Aboriginal languages were spoken when Europeans first settled in Australia, including three in the Shark Bay region: Malgana, Nhanda and Yingkarta. Unfortunately European settlement resulted in many Aboriginal languages not being used regularly.

  • Malgana is the traditional language of the people of central Shark Bay. Although the last known fluent speakers of Malgana died in the 1990s the language is being revived and is used in community projects, government information, interpretive materials and local ecotourism ventures. Vocabulary is also taught in the local school. This revival has been achieved with the assistance of the Yamaji Language Centre in Geraldton.
  • Nhanda is the traditional language of Aboriginal people occupying the coastal strip from southern Shark Bay down to Kalbarri. Only a handful of people now speak the language.
  • Yingkarta is the traditional language of Aboriginal people whose country stretches along the coast between the Gascoyne and Wooramel Rivers, and some way inland. Today the few people who speak Yingkarta live in Carnarvon.

Language is both a mirror and a vehicle for culture and provides insight into Malgana cultural life. Following is a list of Malgana words and their English translations:

People

Yamaji – Aboriginal person
Yadgalah, yajala – friend
Nyarlu – woman
Gardu – man
Wurrinyu – girl, young woman
Gugu, yamba – boy
Wiyabandi – young man
Bilyunu –baby
Guyu – father
Nanga – mother
Gurda – brother
Yiba – sister
Gantharri – grandchile, grandparent
Warlu – lover, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse

Terrestrial

Baba – rain, water
Yalgari – tree
Ngaya – wattle
Yudu – bushl, scrub
Jalyanu – grass
Birlirung – everlasting daisy
Walgu – sandalwood fruit and tree
Bangga, barnka – goanna
Thayadi, thayirri – snake
Jabi – small dragon lizard
Migarda – thorny devil
Marlu – small kangaroo species
Yawarda – larger kangaroo species
Biyagu – galah
Garlaya, yalibidi – emu

Marine

Wirriya – sea, salt water
Buthurru – sand
Thalganjangu – lagoon
Mardirra – pink snapper
Mulgarda – mullet
Mulhagarda – whiting
Irrabuga – bottlenose dolphin
Thaaka – shark
Buyungurra – turtle
Wuthuga – dugong
Warda – pearl
Jurruna – pelican
Wanamalu – cormorant
Wabagu – sea eagle
Winthu – wind

Places

Gutharraguda – two waters / two bays – Shark Bay
Wirruwana – Dirk Hartog Island
Wulyibidi – Peron Peninsula
Thaamarli – Tamala Station
Wilyamaya – tip of Heirisson Prong

Adapted from: Malgana Wangganyina (Talking Malgana): an Illustrated Wordlist of the Malgana Language of Western Australia. Mackman, Doreen (ed). Geraldton: Yamaji Language Centre 2003. Copies can be purchased from:

The Yamaji Language Centre
22 Sanford Street (PO Box 433)
Geraldton WA 6531
Australia
Tel: +61 (08) 9964 3550
Fax: +61 (08) 9964 4690