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Book review: Nganga, by Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson

Aunty Fay Muir (Boon Wurrung Elder and senior linguist at the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages) and Sue Lawson (prolific author for children and young adults) have teamed up to create a resource with the potential to correct many of the most frequent misunderstandings made by non-Indigenous Australians when using Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander words and expressions.

‘Nganga’ (prounounced ng gar na) is a Boon Wurrung word, meaning ‘to see and understand’. This book amply delivers on the promise inherent in its title, clarifying the meanings of commonly used words and expressions from both English and Indigenous languages.

Nganga explains words and concepts of Aboriginal and Islander origin (e.g. dreamtime, kinship, songlines) alongside other words and expressions that are frequently used and misused in relation to Indigenous issues (e.g. clan, land rights, law). It also explains the meanings of many words in their original languages (e.g. dadirri, tanderrum, tidda), attributing them to their clans and/or language groups and providing pronunciation guides where necessary. Each entry is explained clearly and concisely, with geographical and historical information often included.

As the authors point out in the book’s Introduction, there are more than 250 Aboriginal nations in Australia, and approximately 18 communities living on 17 islands in the Torres Strait, so beliefs and customs, while similar, often differ. The authors of Nganga wisely opt to use more general meanings, from a range of Aboriginal nations and Torres Strait Islander groups.

At a time when cross-cultural respect and understanding is needed more than ever, Nganga is an extremely important resource. It deserves a place in every Australian home, school and library.

Walker Books, 2018

ISBN 978 1 921977 01 5

Cover art: Waterholes by Willy Billabong

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