Grug Goes Bush

Image of a storm breaking over Robinson, an outstation near Borroloola in the Northern Territory's Gulf country, by Peter Nihill via WikiCommons.

Image of a storm breaking over Robinson, an outstation near Borroloola in the Northern Territory's Gulf country, by Peter Nihill via WikiCommons.

Publisher Simon & Schuster Australia has published a translation of Ted Prior’s Grug Learns to Read in Karrawa, an indigenous language from Australia’s Top End. The book - Grug Milidimba Nunga Read Imbigunji - has been translated by Ngingina. It’s been published with assistance from the Indigenous Literacy Project. The ILP will distribute the book among remote indigenous communities like Robinson (see image) and the nearby Borroloola on the McArthur River, where Karrawa is one of several languages spoken. Borroloola, a community of about 780, of which about 200 are not indigenous, is home to the Yanyuwa people.

According to the ILP website, “[i]n the Northern Territory, only one in five children living in very remote Indigenous communities can read at the accepted minimum standard.” It’s commonly believed that at the time of European settlement there were between 350 and 750 indigenous languages spoken in what is now Australia. Today, 150 languages remain, of which all but 20 are endangered.

Karrawa is an alternate spelling of Garrwa. The National Indigenous Language Service estimated in 2004 that the language had between 40 and 200 speakers, although Crikey’s Fully Sic blogger on language matters, Piers Kelly, notes, “Calculating accurate speaker numbers is notoriously difficult.” He adds, “There is a new National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS) report being compiled this year and it’s hoped that the figures will be more reliable.”

The Grug series of 25 kids' books was originally published by Hodder Headline Australia between 1979 and 1992, and have now been republished along with seven new titles.

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