Garrwa People of Northern Territory

The Garrwa say they are a mainland people, not a saltwater people, though they do have saltwater country and some Garrwa people were excellent hunters of dugong and sea turtle. However more commonly the Garrwa say they are freshwater people and hunters of emu, kangaroo, goanna, freshwater turtles and echidna. Garrwa country runs from the upper reaches of the Wearyan River to the east of Borroloola, and travelling eastwards encompasses the Foelsche, Robinson, Calvert Rivers to just over the Queensland border, as well at Settlement Creek in the south-west Gulf of Carpentaria.

The Garrwa language is one of many Indigenous Australian languages that are being lost or dying due to there being no one to continue speaking it, or teaching it. There are two dialects of the Garrwa language, one is called soft or light Garrwa and is associated with the western area of their country and the other is called heavy or stone country Garrwa and is associated with the eastern portions of their country. This stone country dialect is also often called Gunindirri Garrwa.

During the contact period the Garrwa people suffered at the hands of white settler – the Garrwa call this the ‘wild times’. Since this time the Garrwa language has been dying with only a few fluent speakers still on country today. Marjorie Keighran and Daphne Mawson are two of these speakers.

Marjorie Keighran, Marlene Timothy, & Daphne Mawson (Garrwa Elders) wanted to produce animations that not only engaged people with their language and country, but also something that was fun.

In 2014 Dr Liam Brady and Associate Professor John Bradley commenced the The Garrwa Stone Country Rock Art Project: collaborating to share and preserve knowledge’. This McArthur River Mine Community Benefits Trust funded project, uses archaeological and ethnographic understandings of the art to explore contemporary Aboriginal engagement and negotiation with rock art in the context of agency, affect and unfolding archaeological knowledge.

MCLA partnered with Garrwa elders and the Garrwa Stone Country Rock Art project to produce two Garrwa animations:

Purdiwan (complete).

Purdiwan (Pretty One) is a kurija (woman’s fun song) about moving the goats from one location to another. Purdiwan is beautiful, funny, and educational. It is a show and tell of Indigenous Australian peoples continuing place in country.

The Garrwa people pride themselves on their long, rich history of working in the cattle industry. Purdiwan (Pretty One) has its origins in this tradition. In the early days of the pastoral industry, the men worked the cattle, and the women would look after herds of goats that were used for both their milk and meat.

Whilst the composer of the Purdiwan song is long forgotten, Marjorie Keighran is the singer on the animation. When visiting her childhood country, Marjorie recalled the song and asked for it to be animated and shared so it continues on into the future. Purdiwan is in the soft or light Garrwa dialect.

The Community had an outdoor film festival on 19 September 2014 at Borroloola showing all the Yanyuwa animations produced by MCLA plus Purdiwan followed by a very old David Attenborough movie called the Hermits of Borroloola. So engaged were the Garrwa in the animation that one of the Elders secured a dress like the one in Purdiwan to wear on the night. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive with even the local pastoral property owners coming-up and shaking their hands and exclaiming how wonderful it was to see the goats.

Marlukarra Ngarrkadabawurr: Karnanganjanyi (complete)

Marlukarra Ngarrkadabawurr: Karnanganjanyi (Emu Hunters of Excellence) story speaks to Garrwa pride in the prowess of their ancestor’s hunting skills. Marlukarra Ngarrkadabawurr: Karnanganjanyi uses both light and heavy Garrwa.