Restoring what was lost: Jim Barrett has written about the Gandanguurra language, an interest sparked by his love of the Burragorang Valley. I have on my shelves a treasured series of small history books on topics to do with thesouthern Blue Mountains—the country of the Gundungurra people. They were allwritten in the 1990s. Their author, Jim Barrett, started bushwalking in that countryalmost seventy years ago. Warragamba Dam, which caused the tragic flooding of theamazing Burragorang Valley, wasn’t even on the drawing boards then.
In all those years of walking, Jim developed a deep love of the area and an interest in itshistory, both Aboriginal and more recent.
Now in his nineties, Barrett has just produced a work which is clearly the result of vastamounts of analysis and thought, fired by his love of that country. It must also be theresult of hefty doses of obsession and endurance, for he’s been working on the projectfor many years.
The book is fundamentally a text on the language of the Gandanguurra people.
“Gandanguurra?” I hear you say. “What happened to Gundungurra?” Well, there’s awhole chapter on the linguistics and meaning of that word alone. Barrett states that he’snot a linguist, but he strikes me as a very convincing one. The various people whorecorded the language—when it was still possible to do so—wrote valuable lists andnotes, but Barrett has brought all the data together and interpreted it in onecomprehensive volume.
I will never speak Gandanguurra, at any level. I therefore found myself passing over thevocabulary lists and finer points of grammar. However, there was still much of interestto me. Barrett discusses the derivation of the language and its relationship withneighbouring languages. In describing how various place-names have been derived hedelves into colonial contact history, the Gandanguurra of the early 1900s, and the worldof Aboriginal mythology.
I’m sure there’ll be those who disagree with Barrett on one thing or another. Indeed, heinvites feedback from those with different viewpoints. However, I suspect there are fewwho would be able to criticise on firm ground.
The book does have some minor editorial glitches, and the reference list could have beendetailed better, but such deficiencies can be forgiven. Jim Barrett’s book is a unique andimportant resource concerning the Gandanguurra language and the history of thesouthern Blue Mountains and its people.
The book is available from Megalong Books and other Blue Mountains bookshops.
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