On Friday we will farewell Luise Hercus, a great woman who has made huge contributions to recording Aboriginal knowledge, particularly languages, songs and histories. She worked with over 50 languages, including many along the Murray River. Her most comprehensive NSW study resulted in a grammar of Paakantji and her tapes and other materials will remain the major sources for the study of this language. Her contribution is too large to detail here but the obituary by Harold Koch [2018-05Hercus ANU obituaryKoch] and the 2009 article by Nicholas Rothwell record some of her major work. Unfortunately the link to Rothwell’s article [here] does not include the wonderful photos in the original.
I was privileged to go on two trips to the Simpson Desert and nearby areas with Luise. Mick MacLean had recorded many Histories/songlines with Luise, including the History of the Firemen. He spoke about the site where they destroyed a group of people, who were now burnt rocks. Luise had searched for the site for decades, and when she saw the name ‘Kunamaka’ (maka = ‘fire’) in a map she was fairly sure that was the site. So she planned, contacted people, made sure everything was right with the 4wd, and avoided the doctors who would have told her not to set out for three weeks in remote areas.
Sure enough the site was there – although a little south of Kunamaka.
The photo shows Luise and Max Tischler looking at one of the burnt people.
Later in the trip we traveled down the Birdsville Track. One of the most memorable days in my life. Luise regularly commenting on History sites on either side of the track – the Two Boys History, the Swan History and more. And pointing out as we passed from one language group to another.
We have lost a wonderful, and very knowledgeable, woman.