The Language today

Linguist and Wonnarua/Guringay woman Sharon Edgar-Jones saw the need for a user-friendly guide to the language and with Muurrbay’s support has completed the Wanarruwa Beginner’s Guide (Edgar-Jones & Burgman, 2019). Available on our publications page.

It builds on Muurrbay’s  A Salvage Grammar and Wordlist of the Language from the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie (2006) by Amanda Lissarrague. While this Salvage Grammar is out of print, Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation, the copyright holders, have given permission for it to be available via download as three PDFs (coming soon!)

In 2021, the Wonnarua Elders Council asked Sharon Edgar-Jones to run an intensive 12-month long language program with Wonnarua Elders and community. This was designed to help Elders fully participate in the revival of Wanarruwa language on Country. Hopefully similar programs will be available to others in the near future, for more information, email

Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre in Newcastle has researched Awabakal and produced a Community dictionary via Miromaa, its database system. See

Language name

The community and researchers have used several different spellings for this language name, Sharon Edgar-Jones comments: 

In order to write, read and teach a language, a standardised spelling system is required. ‘Wanarruwa’ is how the word looks using the standardised spelling used in the Beginner’s Guide. This form is only used in reference to the language and when writing in language. When writing about themselves and country, Wonnarua Community use several different spellings, including: Wonnarua, Wanaruah and Wonnaruah.

The Languages today known as Awabakal, Wanarruwa, Kariakal/Kuringgai and Geawegal, have also been referred to as the Language from the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie (HRLM).



Wanarruwa/Awabakal was one of the first Aboriginal languages to be formally taught to a non-Aboriginal person. The teacher was Biraban, also known as John McGill, and the student was the Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld, a missionary at Lake Macquarie, between 1824 and 1850.

There is a rich collection of historical sources, the most important being the grammar and word list published by Threlkeld in 1834. Images of Biraban and Threlkeld are from AWABA, an electronic database and guide to the history, culture and language of the Indigenous peoples of the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie region of NSW.

Language features

  • Three vowels: i, a and u, each of which can also be pronounced as a longer vowel, and 13 consonants.
  • A rich system of noun tag endings conveying a lot of meaning, including who does what to whom, with what, and where.
  • The pronouns have singular, dual and plural forms and convey a lot more information than English pronouns.
  • Verbs have three tenses: present, past and future. Other endings convey different meanings, such as permit, want, make and each other.
  • Sentences have a fairly free word order.

Getting started

Hello/hey! Ala!

Wonnarua Elders and Community language learners group
Wonnarua Elders and Community language learners

Good to see you! Marrungpiny nyaakiliku!

Are you good/well? Wiyapi marrung?

I am well. Marrungpang.

I am sick. Manyapang.

Is your family well? Kuutjita ngiruwampa marrung?

They are well. Marrung parra. 

They are sick. Manya parra.

Where is your Country? Waanytjawaanytja parray ngiruwampa?

Who is your family? Ngaany kuutjita ngiruwampa?

Goodbye! Nginuwa!

Sharon Edgar Jones, Wanarruwa teacher
Sharon Edgar Jones, Wanarruwa teacher

(See you) later! Kapu!

Wow!’ / ‘Oh no!’ Ala piyarr! (exclamation of surprise, good or bad)

‘Shame!’ Kuuyan!         

 ‘True!’ Ngapa!  

Yapaalan! Poor thing/person!

Don’t know! Wiyawal!

Leave it! / Never mind! Yanuwa!


A Salvage Grammar and Word List of the Language from the Hunter River & Lake Macquarie

A Beginner’s Guide to Wannaruwa, 2019, Sharon Edgar-Jones and Albert Burgman, Muurrbay.

A Salvage Grammar of the language from the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie, 2006, Amanda Lissarrague, Muurrbay. Out of print, PDF available here INSERT LINK

An Australian Grammar comprehending the principles and natural rules of the language, as spoken by the Aborigines, in the vicinity of Hunter’s River, Lake Macquarie, &c. New South Wales.  1834, Threlkeld, LE. Sydney: Stephens and Stokes, Herald Office.