About the Project

The Illustrated Handbook of Yolŋu Sign Language of North East Arnhem Land Project.

Driven by the vision of Laurie Baymarrwaŋa  (1917-2014), compelled by the spirit of the ancestors, this work is about the intergenerational transmission of language. (YSL) Yolŋu Sign Language is an endangered Indigenous Australian Sign Language. This research, directed by the Yolŋu signers and speakers of this rare language, has been conducted over the last 25 years on the homelands and in the communities of North East Arnhem Land.

The importance of passing on this language to a new generation of Yolŋu children is equalled only by the need to share YSL with all Australians. As each indigenous language disappears all our worlds are diminished. For this reason, we have volunteered to bring together some five hundred signs of YSL collected from the east to the west of Yolŋu Country.

Recent history of this project grows out of the vision of Baymarrwaŋa and a chance meeting at her homeland on Galwin’ku (Elcho Is). There, in 1994, Elaine Maypilama, Dany Mari Carla Adone and I proposed to write this book. Since then, Yolŋu elders from sunrise in the east of Blue Mud Bay to the sunset west at Murruŋga, largest of the outer Crocodile Island, have shared their signs to educate, inform and entertain a new generation of young people.

Baymarrwaŋa would always say “Limalanha gurrku mana maŋutjiguma limalama djäma märr dilak yanama dhuyugu Yolŋulu gurruku mana nhäma marŋgiyirri limalagara. Bilabilagumunu ŋanapuluma nhaŋ’kumunu dhäŋuny bulthuna nhapiyana mananha limalama dilak mittji nyenanha baman’ŋatjili”. We follow the way of the ancestors, the way of those who come before.[1]

Baymarrwaŋa spent a lifetime promoting the intergenerational transmission of local language and knowledge to sustain authentic livelihoods on the homelands. She gave funding, signs and direction to this project. Her Rangers, Atlas and turtle sanctuary were part of her dream. Thanx to the generosity of many fine people and the help of volunteers, we have realised her unfinished project, the magnificent Illustrated Handbook of Yolŋu Sign Language of North East Arnhem Land.
In honour of Baymarrwaŋa’s vision, the Illustrated Handbook of Yolŋu Sign Language of North East Arnhem Land, gives this endangered language back to the children. The Illustrated Handbook of Yolŋu Sign Language of North East Arnhem Land describes the grammar, vocabulary, structure and conventions of Yolŋu sign language in an easy-to-use, full-colour guide for everyone. Distribution to the children, schools and ranger programs of Milingimbi, Murruŋga and Galwin’ku schools has begun. Soon I travel to the east to distribute the rest of the books to homelands and schools. What a wonderful tribute it is to those that have passed away in the making of this text to celebrate their generosity.
Thankyou. Thankyou from the many who will benefit from this rare text. And thankyou to those who had the vision to support this work. The generous people who donated more than one hundred dollars your copy will be winging its way towards you soon. The very few remaining copies will be sold to fund the next volunteer project.