Yinarraa Bulaarr – A second great woman, Luise Hercus

Fred Reece said that while yinarr is ‘woman’ yinarraa is special, is like you were made a ‘dame’ or something similar. On Wednesday Aunty Fay Green became Dr Fay Green, OAM. On Friday we farewelled another yinarraa, Luise Hercus – A great worker for Aboriginal languages and culture and a valued friend of many Aboriginal people.

The photo shows Luise and Don Rowlands, a Wangkangurru man from Birdsville, on a 2002 trip following the Swan History. Don traveled to Canberra for Luise’s farewell and spoke movingly at the ceremony. HIs words are below.

Also at the funeral was Brendan Kennedy, a Mathi Mathi man, who also paid great tribute to Luise. His words are also below.

Don Rowlands

Delivered by Don Rowlands at Luise Hercus’ funeral, Canberra, 2018-05-11

As a kid growing up I  lived with my grandparents in a humpy on the bank of the Diamantina river near Birdsville.

Like most of us growing up I was working in mustering camps by the time I could ride and only sent to school when they needed more students to keep it open.

You know growing up we were told our culture and language was debil debil talk and no good, we’d get a smack if whitefellas heard you speak in language especially the local cop or teacher.

We had to report to the Aboriginal protector, (police) and he told us where we had to work and who we had to obey. Everywhere society told us that our Aboriginality was something to be ashamed of . . . that it was useless… We were not allowed to speak in language, it became very difficult to continue our oral teachings and traditions,

And then….. along comes this little white woman with her tape recorder .

. . and her resilience was like a bullet proof vest, and her perseverance paid off.

It wasn’t long before everyone knew who she was , but when we saw her most of us would run for the hills we didn’t want the white fellas to see u talking to anyone …. You see in the old days the brave ones would stay to share their knowledge with Luise but were later punished in certain ways after she left; they were harassed or coincidentally locked up for longer than necessary for no reason.

This wonderful lady spun my world upside down. She taught me that my culture was precious, important and something to be treasured, protected, shared and to be proud of; the song lines and dreamtime stories and what they teach.

Luise became the keeper of the stories and in the end the only one able to speak our language fluently …. It’s something I get quite sad about but very grateful at the same time …. Where would it all be if it wasn’t for this wonderful tenacious little lady.

Over the last 40 years Luise became my dearest friend, my confidante and teacher and I will be forever grateful for the profound impact she had on my life. We would ring each other quite often, sometimes even if it was just for a little chat.

Today we mourn the keeper of my information and my knowledge; a precious friend and a national treasure.

Urlyula Nguruka Arla

Truly great woman

Walparra Yukana Minparru-Ngana

Travel safely; go with God.


Brendan Kennedy

Tribute to Luise Hercus by Brendan Kennedy Mathi Mathi

On the 11th May 2018


Mathi Mathi song “Pathangalu wiringil Kakatha” sung by Brendan Kennedy

That song I wrote about “Pathangal “ the pelican, it’s a very special song for me because I initially wrote it and then I presented it to Luise , we were on a long car trip from her farm at on our way back to Swan Hill in Victoria , and she immediately picked up parts of the grammar that was distinctively Mathi Mathi, we both went thru the song several times, Luise said to me Brendan when it comes to songs in your language you can sing it in any order they don’t have to be grammatically the same as when you are talking in language because that’s how you old people sang in language,

On behalf of the Mathi Mathi people of South Western New South Wales and many other First Nations peoples, I’d like to pass on condolences to Iain and Anne Marie Hercus on this sad occasion,

There’s a saying that behind every good man there’s a good woman, I think on this occasion behind this particular woman there is a good son,

So Iain thank you for having such a wonderful mother, and an even bigger thank you for sharing Luise with so many people,

My name is Brendan Kennedy Dindi Thanggi Wudungi, I come from the Murray River country and my people are the Mathi Mathi, Tati Tati, Latju Latju, Weki Weki , Wadi Wadi , Yita Yita , Nari Nari peoples, my languages were all regarded as critically endangered, thanks to Luise Hercus our languages can be revived,

Luise Hercus was my friend, I first heard of Luise Hercus when I pick up a book about my people’s languages titled “Victorian languages, A late Survey” by L Hercus,

I remember hearing  my older family members talking about a woman whom had recorded Jack Long, one of the last of the Mathi Mathi language speakers, they were talking about Luise,

In this book Luise talks about my own ancestor’s, my great great uncle George Ivanhoe -Mathi Mathi and my great grandmother Queen Caroline of Oxley – Yita Yita,

I was so fascinated about this and so I would read this book over and over , and then some years later I managed to tracked down the actual audio recordings that Luise did of Jack Long speaking Mathi Mathi language, one of the audio tapes was recorded on the 15th of January 1968 the very day before I was born, so you can imagine I was starting to build up a bit of a profile in my mind about Luise,

So one evening I decided to give her a phone call and asking her questions about her work , and what I was wanting to do about reviving Mathi Mathi, she was so thrilled to hear that someone was interested in languages, and she was so keen to help me understand my language and she always stressed how important it was for us to bring back our language for the children to have,

So over the past several years Luise has supported my work reviving language in my community, she has popped in at Robinvale and Balranald during her trips across the countryside to see me , and the lasted trip I was so proud to present to hers some of my latest projects such as the animations which she was so thrilled and amazed at seeing how far language has come and of course our language APPS as well,

I felt that it was important to show her that as a result of her work over such a long period of time, that she should know that thanks to her our languages have survived,

Luise invited me to attend her 90th Birthday, and I asked her when is your birthday?

And I was excited to hear that her birthday was the 16th of January , that’s my birthday as well, just as I said earlier she recorded Jack Long on the 15th January 1968 the day before I was born,

One time I said to Luise that I want to start a language centre or language school and name it after her & Jack Long, I think she was glad and honoured, but she was always so very modest, so that’s my dream to create a centre and name it the Jack Long / Luise Hercus Language Centre , and have a lovely photo at the entrance of Luise to show how much we appreciate what she has done for First languages in this country,

And I can say that actually knew her,

Thank you so very much Luise

Rest In peace forever

Delki Nhaka Ngindi


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