Where Do We Need to Go From Here?



Western Desert Verbal Arts

On the 26th of February 2021 the Western Desert Verbal Arts Collections were inscribed into the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register. The collections were curated in the AMW Register by ELAR depositors Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis, Inge Kral, and Jennifer Green.

Landing page image for the ELAR collection Western Desert Special Speech Styles Project

The collection resulting from the Western Desert Special Speech Styles Project, funded by an ELDP grant, is representative of the oral traditions of Ngaanyatjarra, Ngaatjatjarra and Pitjantjatjara-speaking Indigenous Australians who reside in remote Western Australia. For these Western Desert people, their verbal arts are situated in social practices whose cosmological foundations originate in the Tjukurrpa – the ‘ Dreaming’ or ‘Creation Time’. The Collection consists of a spectrum of oral practices – narratives, sand stories, iPad stories, children’s songs and games, and special speech styles – recorded with male and female narrators spanning three generations.

Showreel of the ELAR collection Western Desert Special Speech Styles Project

The collection was recorded and documented between 2010 and 2013 by Indigenous linguist Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis, a senior Ngaatjatjarra woman who is a storyteller and practitioner of the verbal arts of her Western Desert society, in collaboration with linguist Jennifer Green and linguistic anthropologist Inge Kral, and Indigenous members of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands communities.

The collaboration has resulted in two recent publications: In the Time of their Lives. Wangka kutjupa-kutjuparringu: How talk has changed in the Western Desert (Kral & Ellis) and i-Tjuma: Ngaanyatjarra stories from the Western Desert of Central Australia (Edited by Kral, Green & Ellis), which will be launched on Zoom on 19 March 2021 (4 pm AEST / 2.30 pm ACST / 1 pm AWST / 5 am GMT) by Nick Evans, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. Speakers will include Dereck Harris, Chairman of Ngaanyatjarra Council and Ros Russell from UNESCO, who will present the inscription to the Australian Memory of the World Register. Mandana Seyfeddinipur from ELAR will discuss the archived collection.

If you would like a Zoom invitation to attend the book launch please email Joanne Allen.