Probably the largest volume of Aboriginal language story material in South East Australia comes from the Gumbaynggirr area. Muurrbay is restoring and publishing the Nymboidan Gumbaynggirr stories of Phillip Shannon as found in researcher Gerhardt Laves’s manuscripts, and is comparing their language and story themes with those of other Gumbaynggirr sources. We are very grateful to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies for funding this research.

Muurrbay tree of life painting
This painting 'Muurrbay Story' by Gumbaynggirr-Bundjalung artist, Sharon Smith depicts one of the stories that will be analyzed as part of this project.

Muurrbay will present these stories in Laves’ orthography, standard Gumbaynggirr orthography, a gloss (Leipzig rules), and a free translation. Using examples of Southern stories of Harry Buchanan and Northern stories recorded by WE Smythe, a comparative outline of three Gumbaynggirr dialects will be made.  Indigenous researchers Dallas Walker, Gary Williams and Virginia Jarrett will train in glossing according to the Leipzig rules.

Muurrbay has already published a  limited number of a reader’s edition Gumbaynggirr Yuludarla in 1992, but it is now out of print. These stories are mainly from the Southern informant Harry Buchanan. Muurrbay is also preparing to publish an illustrated collection of all known Gumbaynggirr stories. However the language in these has been standardised to the southern dialect and glossing has been at a lay-person’s level.

This research will further the public recognition of Gumbaynggirr culture through place names and signage; e.g. the recognition and signage explanation of the Moon place at Coffs Harbour. Art, music, dance and drama presentations have already come about in the Goori community from opening up of local stories; and a carefully researched original presentation of these stories will help to authenticate and validate such cultural expressions. This presentation will help dispel Non-Aboriginal myths that ‘real’ Indigenous culture and language come from the Top End or the arid interior. They will engender pride in the Goori community and enable non-Indigenous people to appreciate the local Aboriginal heritage.

Linguistic subtleties of Gumbaynggirr, found almost exclusively in the Shannon stories will be made explicit through this proposed research. The stories contain several ways of expressing politeness and avoidance language. Highlighting these will militate against the myth that Aboriginal languages are ‘primitive’. Both the linguistic and the socio-cultural values of the Shannon stories that have been excluded from reader’s editions have convinced the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language Centre that these stories must be included in the proposed academic version.