If You Dunno, You Arks
We were working in Fitzroy Crossing doing research for the local Aboriginal Council which managed relationships and business between the four language groups around the town. The task a colleague and I had was to investigate how the different groups felt about the way the local Council was doing its job and how it could do it better.
So we roamed the community over several visits, introducing ourselves and our task, and sitting and chatting with anyone and everyone who wanted to have a say. While quite a few people had things to say and points to make, the impression we got, as in non-Aboriginal society, was that a lot of people weren’t particularly interested in Council business.
Anyway, we faithfully recorded all views and made a chart, listing the communities we’d visited, the date or dates, how many people came to see us, and the gender of those people. At one point, my colleague asked me how to spell the name of the community we had just visited. I gave her what I thought was the spelling, Djugeridi, which is how it was pronounced, and she frowned.
“I saw it on the map in the Council Boardroom and it didn’t look like that. Can we go back and check?”
We agreed it would be a good idea to check the spelling of all community names on that map, which we did. And I learned the correct spelling of Djugerari: the final ‘r’ being articulated as a ‘d’.
We sent the draft report about two weeks later and then visited to meet the Council to get their feedback two weeks after that. We presented a brief summary and then opened the meeting up for feedback and discussion.
Immediately one of the senior men in the room, a Walmajarri man, pointed at the report and told us, “You been spell dem names wrong way.”
“What names do you mean, Albert?” I asked him.
“Dem community ones. You spell some name wrong way.”
“Can you tell us which ones, please?”
“You get that Djugerari one wrong way.” It was the community he was from.
“Thanks, Albert, and are there any others?”
He listed about four more which my colleague faithfully noted and when she had, I told Albert, “We’re sorry if our spelling was wrong, Albert. We checked all the names on the map behind me and that’s the spelling we thought was right.”
“No, Daybt, no, you don’t read him from map thing. You arks peoples how they spell community name.”
“So, tell me, Albert, how should we spell Djugerari?”
“Don’t pucking arks me, Daybt,” he retorted. “Arks some other bugger. I been no good at dat spelling ting.”