Heritage Matters

The term ‘heritage’ covers all that we, as a society, value today and wish to pass on to future generations.

The Legacy of Language

Every language contains the collective history of an entire people – a vast repository of human knowledge about the natural world, plants, animals, ecosystems, and cultural traditions.

One of the world’s 7,000 distinct languages disappears every 14 days, an extinction rate exceeding that of birds, mammals or plants. The top hot spot is Australia where over 200 languages spoken by Aborigines are at risk.

Aurora Australis supports the preservation of indigenous heritage through the establishment of “Legacy of Language” R & D programmes and cultural identity initiatives throughout Australia.

Aurora Australis offers the prospect of real reconciliation and reconnection of all people – past and present.

It also recognises the powerful difference we can make as individuals in shaping the reality of the world we live in now and the need for commitment to collaboration and co-operation to achieve our aspirations of a better world in the future.

That takes enlightenment.

As the Aboriginal elders of Australia say: “Let’s become aware, respect, acknowledge and celebrate the spirit, the land , the people and the way of life” on earth.

We are at a defining moment in the history of this planet and the evolutionary journey of its inhabitants because in order to effectively lighten our carbon footprint, we have to tread more carefully, gently and respectfully with each other along the way.

Read more… about the pioneering work of Rob Amery, Lewis Warritya O’Brien & Lester-Irabinna Rigney in their intention of Yunggorendi – “to impart knowledge, to communicate” through the Kaurna Warra Pintyandi (KWP) ‘creating Kaurna language’ group of Adelaide, Australia. 

The Rising Phoenix:  

Kaurna, the language of the Adelaide Plains


Dr Rob Amery

Linguistics, University of Adelaide



Have you noticed the Kaurna names prominently displayed on signage in the Adelaide Parklands? Have you noticed the increasing use of Kaurna language in public artworks? Have you heard Kaurna spoken in words of welcome at major events?


Kaurna, the original language of Adelaide and the Adelaide Plains was probably last spoken on a daily basis in the 1860s. Fortunately it was reasonably well documented by German missionaries, Teichelmann & Schürmann (1840) and Teichelmann (1857). Some other wordlists also exist, all in all about 3,000 to 3,500 different words and many hundreds of translated sentences were recorded. Teichelmann & Schürmann (1840) also produced a sketch grammar which accords well with the kinds of structures we would expect to find in a Pama-Nyungan language, the group of languages to which Kaurna belongs.


Kaurna people first turned to historical sources for naming purposes with Warriappendi Alternative School being named in 1980 following a search of archival materials. Since then, many Aboriginal organisations and Aboriginal programs have adopted Kaurna names. Many Kaurna people have adopted Kaurna names for themselves and have named their children and pets with Kaurna names. Naming activity has emerged as a major contemporary function for the Kaurna language.


Kaurna words and phrases have also been incorporated into many public artworks beginning with Daryl Milika Pfitzner’s and Muriel Van Der Byll’s Yerrakartarta ‘at random’ installation outside the Hyatt Hotel on North Terrace in 1995.


Two Kaurna dance groups, Paitya and Taikurtinna, have formed where the lead performers, Karla Winda ‘spear’ Telfer, Steve Gadlabarti ‘native bee’ Goldsmith and Jack Kanya ‘rock’ Buckskin introduce their performances in fluent Kaurna.


A series of postcards, Turra Womma Tarndanyako ‘Images of the Adelaide Plains’ featuring Tarnda ‘male red kangaroo’, Warto ‘wombat’, Pilta ‘brush tailed possum’, Kari ‘emu’, Kudlyo ‘black swan’ and Ilya ‘red-bellied black snake’ were produced by Kaurna Warra Pintyandi in 2007.


Kaurna is now taught to relatively small numbers of students at all levels of education, from kindergarten through to university studies. But some of these programs are under threat as minimum class sizes are increased. And there is great potential for growth of language programs in schools if teachers of Kaurna can be trained with the requisite knowledge and skills.


What is behind all this activity? For Kaurna people it is an act of identity. The Kaurna people have long been regarded as an extinct people and their language as a dead language. Even Christian Teichelmann, who documented the language so carefully in the 1840s, wrote in a cover note attached to his 1857 vocabulary which he sent to Sir George Grey, then in Cape Town, South Africa: “of the Aborigines who once inhabited the district round about Adelaide; for they have disappeared to a very few . . . the Tribe has ceased to be”.


The Kaurna people had not ‘ceased to be’, but this statement no doubt indicates that the people Teichelmann had known and worked with had passed on. Cawthorne, who also had a very close association with Kaurna people wrote in 1865: “Of this tribe at the present moment I believe not 5 individuals exist, 4 years ago, as well as I could ascertain, there was but one family living”.


So Kaurna society was at an exceedingly low point in the late nineteenth century. Still, many hundreds of people today trace their ancestry to known Kaurna figures and identify primarily as Kaurna people. The language serves as an additional means of celebrating the survival of the Kaurna people and their culture, and a means of bringing the idea home in the minds of the wider population that Kaurna people are still here and that they still have a strong connection with this land.


Kaurna people do not see the Kaurna language as simply a proud relic of a bygone era. Rather, it is seen as a pathway to the future. Accordingly, Kaurna people have embraced the formation of new words for objects and ideas that were not even dreamt of at the time it was last spoken fluently on a daily basis. Fortunately for us the German missionaries had recorded well over a hundred terms for items and concepts introduced by the colonists such as nurlitti ‘key’, biltitti ‘scissors’, wito ‘telescope’, makkiturra ‘mirror’, nukkeana ‘handkerchief’ and worta ‘horse cart’ (see Amery, 1993). Thus we know the means by which Kaurna people themselves incorporated and encoded new concepts in the language. We can use these very same processes today to develop new terms as needed, such as mukarndo ‘computer’, warraityatti ‘telephone’, turraityatti ‘television’, wornubalta ‘nappy’, tampitirkandi ‘to read’, ngadlukundi ‘identity’ etc.


If the Kaurna language is to live and thrive again beyond its use as an auxiliary language, intergenerational transmission must be restored. This is no easy thing. Yet talking to babies and young children is a very ‘safe’ situation in which to begin to use Kaurna. Babies will respond positively irrespective what language is spoken to them. But parents and caregivers need to be provided with a range of useful phrases and expressions needed in this context. In 2000 we embarked on a series of Kaurna Warra Pintyandi ‘creating Kaurna language’ workshops to do just that (Amery & Gale, 2000).


We also developed funeral protocols including Kaurna translations of prayers, well-loved hymns and liturgy, such that it would be possible to conduct an entire service in Kaurna if so desired (Amery & Rigney, 2006; Amery & O’Brien, 2007).


The Kaurna Warra Pintyandi (KWP) group decided to continue to meet on a monthly basis to work on Kaurna language projects and to address requests for names, translations and information on the Kaurna language in an orderly fashion.


What is the future of the Kaurna language? It is clear that interest and involvement in the Kaurna language movement is more than just a passing fad. When I convened the first workshops at Kaurna Plains School in 1990 and continued to hold these workshops for one or two weeks a year travelling down from Darwin, I thought that interest would soon wane and that it would be just too hard to sustain. To the contrary, interest has grown. More and more people have come on board. Demand for Kaurna language programs is building, but it is still difficult to supply sufficient resources, especially teachers of the language, to meet the demand. The phoenix is indeed rising from the ashes. I am not sure where the Kaurna language will lead, but as Kauwanu Lewis O’Brien says “it’s the journey that’s important”. For Ngarpadla Alitya Wallara Rigney “language is power. … development of language is vital if we are going to continue to grown and affirm our Aboriginality”


Warrabarna Kaurna! ‘Let Kaurna be spoken!’



For more information see

Amery, Rob (2000) Warrabarna Kaurna! Reclaiming an Australian Language. Swets & Zeitlinger, Lisse, The Netherlands.


Amery, Rob (2001) Language Planning and Language Revival. In Current Issues in Language Planning 2(2&3): 141-221.


Amery, Rob & Alice Wallara Rigney with Nelson Varcoe, Chester Schultz and Kaurna Warra Pintyandi (2006) Kaurna Palti Wonga – Kaurna Funeral Protocols. (book, CD & Sympathy Cards) Kaurna Warra Pintyandi, Adelaide. (launched on 20 May 2006)


Amery, Rob & Dennis O’Brien (2007) Funeral liturgy as a strategy for language revival. In Jeff Siegel, John Lynch & Diana Eades (eds.) Linguistic Description and Linguistic Applications: Studies in Memory of Terry Crowley. John Benjamins, 457-467. (Chapter 34)


Amery, Rob & Lester Irabinna Rigney (2006) Recognition of Kaurna cultural heritage in the Adelaide Parklands: A linguist’s and Kaurna academic’s perspective.  Proceedings of The Adelaide Parklands Symposium: A balancing act: past – present – future. University of South Australia, Adelaide. 10 November 2006. Pages 12-26.


Amery, Rob & Alitya Wallara Rigney (2007) Collaborative Language Revival – the work of Kaurna Warra Pintyandi (Adelaide Plains, South Australia).  Proceedings of FEL XI Working Together for Endangered Languages: Research Challenges and Social Impacts. The Eleventh Conference of the Foundation for Endangered Languages: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Rumah University, University of Malaya 26-28th October 2007. Pages 21-28.


Amery, Rob with Kaurna Warra Pintyandi (forthcoming) Kulluru Marni Ngattaitya! Sounds Good to me! A Kaurna Learner’s Guide.