Ollie’s colourful book preserves Badimaya language

Capturing language: Linguists James Bednall and Rosie Sitorus, in conversation with Badimaya Elder, Ollie George in 2015

Capturing language: Linguists James Bednall and Rosie Sitorus, in conversation with Badimaya Elder, Ollie George in 2015

One of the last fluent Badimaya language speakers, 82-year-old Ollie George, has had some of his language preserved in a stunning book about to be launched.

Bundiyarra-Irra Wangga Language Centre has completed a book of Ollie’s stories – Nganang Badimaya Wangga: Yarns with Gami Ollie George – a collection of yarns about growing up on Badimaya country.

The book will be launched at Kirkalocka Station about 70km south of Mt Magnet on Wednesday May 24 and is a wonderful project preserving and sharing the Badimaya language.

Working with Ollie, the project has brought together language speakers, linguists and Badimaya and other Yamaji artists to create a lasting legacy of the language through art and a full-colour Badimaya-English book.

Language Centre Coordinator, Jenni Kniveton-Gregory, said this project idea came from linguists Rosie Sitorus and James Bednall.

“What became apparent to Rosie and James after all this language work and spending hours with Ollie, was that this could be the heart of something bigger and special, and that is how this book came to fruition,” she said.

Gami (Pop) Ollie, as he is affectionately known, relates stories in the Badimaya language of growing up and of life on some of WA’s outback pastoral stations. His stories have been captured in Badimaya and translated into English by Rosie and James.

A number of the stories are accompanied with expressive, colourful paintings produced by Badimaya and some Yamaji artists, including the Language Centre’s own talented Leeann Merritt and Nadine Taylor.

The artists came together in workshops held in Geraldton and Mt Magnet and have created some warm and inspiring pieces that reflect Ollie’s life stories.

The project will culminate with the book launch at Kirkalocka Station – where Ollie grew up – and the paintings will be exhibited at Geraldton Regional Art Gallery from the end of May after the exhibition opening on Saturday 27 May.

Chris Lewis from ABC Open has documented the creation of the project and the video will be shown at the art exhibition launch.

Funding for the project was contributed through the Australian Government’s Indigenous Languages and Arts Program and the City of Greater Geraldton. This program is supported by the Departments of Culture and the Arts and Regional Development, Royalties for Regions and Country Arts WA.

In some more exciting news, Ollie George is a finalist in the 2017 NAIDOC Elder of the Year awards, the theme being Our Languages Matter. A fitting nomination with the launch of his book.