Language today

Gathang has come a long way since 2010 when A grammar and dictionary of Gathang: the language of the Birrbay, Guringay and Warrimay  was published and Muurrbay supported community classes in Taree, Forster and Port Macquarie. Now Gathang is used widely by the community and is taught in many TAFEs, schools and family groups throughout the region. Gathang has a big presence in people’s lives through speeches, naming, signage, song and art. 

Language wins

  • 2015 and 2020: Twenty-six people graduated with a Cert III Learning an Endangered language (Gathang) 
  • Formation of Djuyalgu Wakulda (Speak Together) who is sponsoring a Language Project Gathang Djukalma Dhanbaan (Growing Language Strong) to design and deliver two eight-week Gathang online community programs, with a pathway to further TAFE-based languages education. The project is auspiced by Muurrbay and funded by the Aboriginal Languages Trust, NSW.
  • Running the program Gathang Garuwaga to support language in the home, in Karuah and surrounds through developing Language Kits in hard copy and online.
  • Increasing number of adult language courses on offer, Gathang taught in schools and small family groups meeting regularly to share Gathang.
  • Elders and younger Gathang Language Champions are leading the way, studying the Language at PhD Level and guiding all aspects of revitalisation.

Language versus dialect 

What is a ‘dialect’? People from two areas might speak slightly differently, but they understand each other; so they are talking different dialects of a language. 

It seems that ‘Gathang’ is a cover term for the three dialects Birrbay, Guringay and Warrimay.

Gathang grows

Birrbay, Guringay and Warrimay people throughout the region are using language in many areas of life including:

  • Many organisations are learning Language and welcoming people to Country in Gathang.
  • Ngarralinyi radio is using language in broadcasting where possible.
  • People are using Gathang in welcomes and prayers in religious ceremonies, such as funerals.
  • Schools are using Gathang in signage, assemblies and Language classes.
  • People are using Gathang in writing songs, storytelling and in artworks.
  • Gathang is being used to name bush tucker gardens, buildings, accommodation/units, properties, and in business names.

Language features

Gathang is characterised by having:

  • Three vowels: i, a and u; and 13 consonants: b, d, dh~dj, g, m, n, nh ~ny (~yn), ng, r, rr, l, w, y.
  • Noun suffixes or tag endings add meaning including instrument, location, movement towards, movement from, cause etc.
  • Verbs have three tenses, past, present-habitual and future. Other suffixes convey different meanings, including ‘in order to’ do something, ‘want’ and ‘must’ do something, and ‘be’ something.
  • Free word order, although there is a tendency towards ‘Doer’ – ‘done to’ – ‘verb’.

History of research

Several people recorded the language from the late 1880s:

  • 1887: Curr published the earliest word list, compiled by John Branch. 
  • 1900: Enright published a description of the language and wordlist. 
  • 1929: the American linguist Gerhardt Laves worked with Charlie Briggs, Bill Dungie, Charlie Bugg, Jim Moy, Albert Lobban, Hannah Bugg, Susan Russell, Ted Lobban, Mrs Russell. 
  • 1961: an unknown compiler worked with Jim Davies. 
  • 1960s: Eddie Lobban and Fred Bugg were recorded by linguist Nils Holmer, he compiled a grammar, a wordlist and some stories.A grammar and dictionary of Gathang. The language of the Birrbay, Guringay and Warrimay

Following consultation with Gathang community groups, Muurrbay linguist Amanda Lissarrague analysed the data from these and other sources, published as  A grammar and dictionary of Gathang: the language of the Birrbay, Guringay and Warrimay  in 2010. 

This brought together all that was known about Gathang language at that time, in a standardised writing system. It has served as a valuable reference for the production of teaching and learning materials.


Welcome to/acknowledgement of country

Gathang Welcome to Country
Minyang nyura wubaliyn?

Nyura yiigu marala barraygu.

(Yii barraba barray.)

Yii Gathangguba barray.

Gathay nyiirun.

Welcome. What are you doing? You have come here. (This is my country.) This is Gathang country. Let us go together.

(You can leave out line three to do an acknowledgement of country.)


Here is more detail showing how the words are formed according to the rules of Gathang grammar.


Minyang nyura wuba-li-yn?

what       you.all do-ing-PRES

What are you doing? (A common way of greeting is to ask a question.)


Nyura      yii-gu      mara-la      barray-gu.

you.all here-to come-have country-to.

You have come here, to this country.


(Yii barraba barray.)

this my       country

This is my country.


Yii Gathang-guba barray.

this Gathang-‘s country

This is Gathang country.


Gathay nyiirun.

go-will we.all

Let us go together.

Some published texts

Branch, J 1887 “No 186: Port Macquarie” in EM Curr (ed.), The Australian Race. Melbourne: John Ferres, Government printer, 3:338-350.

Elkin, AP 1932 “Notes on the Social Organisation of the Worimi, A Kattang-Speaking People”. In Oceania, 2(3), 359-63.

Enright, WJ 1900 “The language, weapons and manufactures of the Aborigines of Port Stephens, NSW”. In Journal of the Royal Society of NSW, 34:103-18.

Enright, W J.1933. “Social Divisions of the Birripai”. In Mankind 1(5):102.

Holmer, N 1966, An attempt towards a comparative grammar of two Australian languages, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.

Holmer, N. 1967. An attempt towards a comparative grammar of two Australian languages, Part 2 Indices and vocabularies of Kattang and Thangatti, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.

Holmer, NM & Holmer, V, 1969, Stories from two native tribes of eastern Australia, Carl Bloms Boktryckeri, Lund.