There is a common myth about how the kangaroo got its name. When European explorers first saw a kangaroo they asked a native Australian what it was called. The local didn’t understand the question and replied ‘kangaroo’ meaning “I don’t know” in his own language. The explorers took this to be the animal’s name. Alas, it is but a myth and another theory states that the word kangaroo is probably derived from the Guugu Yimidhirr word gangurru, which does means the marsupial we know as kangaroo.

Last year was the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and you may remember we looked at Indigenous languages’ contribution to English in a previous blog post. But this time, I’m more interested in the 795 different languages themselves and what’s being done to preserve them. According to First Languages Australia, there is now a significant body of evidence which demonstrates a range of benefits for Indigenous peoples and minority groups when they maintain strong connections with their languages and culture. Keeping the mother tongue and then mastering English for example, provides minority language speakers with the advantage of being able to operate in different contexts. This in turn increases one’s life chances and employment options.

I recently discovered a fascinating resource, called Gambay, an online map of First Languages that is being compiled to help reflect the names and groupings favoured by community. It not only highlights the language from your region, but also the ethnological terms, how they were derived and the various sources used to collate this information.

The area where we live and work, the Central Coast of NSW, was inhabited by the Darkinjung people for at least 20,000 years, and there are numerous sites that were sacred to them. My 4-year-old granddaughter can recite the Acknowledgment of Country that is said at her daycare to remember and pay tribute to the first people of the land.

In the ABC Listen recording below, we hear from Bronwyn Chambers and learn the Darkinyung words for water, child and possum, and and why they’re particularly meaningful to her.