The erratic swings of my mental searchlight have focused once again on the native cultures of Australia, something that has fascinated me off and on ever since I learned about the complex grammar of the languages and especially since I bought Wally Caruana’s Aboriginal Art and fell in love with the stylized imagery, intimately linked with the tales of the Dreaming. Well, I just ran across the following entry in my Australian Oxford Paperback Dictionary:
Koori /kuu-ree, koor-ree/ n. an Aborigine. (Awabakal gurri ‘an Aboriginal person’.)
Usage Many Aborigines understandably dislike the use of ‘Aborigine’ or ‘Aboriginal’ since these terms have been foisted on them and can carry pejorative overtones: they prefer to use the word for ‘person’ from a local language. Because of the wide variety of Aboriginal languages, however, Koori has not gained Australia-wide acceptance, being confined to most of NSW and to Vic. Other terms are preferred in other regions: Murri over most of south and central Qld, Bama in north Qld, Nunga in southern SA, Yura in SA, Nyoongah around Perth, Mulba in the Pilbara region, Wongi in the Kalgoorlie region, Yammagi in the Murchison River region, Yolngu in Arnhem Land, Anangu in central Australia, and Yuin on the south coast of NSW.
Now, it’s clearly impossible for anyone but a specialist to know all these terms; my question to Australian readers is, do average non-Aboriginal Aussies tend to know the term for their own region, or is even that a matter of special knowledge? In other words, are these terms normal (like Inuit in Canada) or are they the province of the politically correct? (Note: I’m not making any judgments one way or the other, and I hope this doesn’t turn into a heated discussion of “political correctness”—I’m just trying to get a sense of actual usage.)
Also, if anybody has any good books on Aboriginal culture to recommend, I’ll be grateful; I have Chatwin’s Songlines but haven’t yet read it.