Bruny Island language

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Bruny Island
Region Bruny Island, Tasmania
Ethnicity Bruny tribe of Tasmanians
Extinct perhaps 8 May 1876, with the death of Truganini
Eastern Tasmanian
  • Bruny (Southeastern)
    • Bruny Island
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog brun1235[1]
AIATSIS[2] T5 (includes SE Tasmanian)

Bruny Island Tasmanian, or Nuenonne ("Nyunoni"), a name shared with Southeast Tasmanian, is an aboriginal language or pair of languages of Tasmania in the reconstruction of Claire Bowern.[3] It was spoken on Bruny Island, off the southeastern coast of Tasmania, by the Bruny tribe.

Bruny Island Tasmanian is attested in a list of 986 words collected by Joseph Milligan (published 1857 & 1859); in 515 words collected by George Augustus Robinson; in 273 words from Charles Sterling; and in 111 words from R.A. Roberts (published 1828). The Milligan vocabulary is divergent, and falls out as a distinct language when the lists are compared at p < 0.15, though it falls together with the rest of the island at a looser criterion of p < 0.20.[4]

Sample text[edit]

The following is recorded as a prayer collected on Bruny Island in Robinson's diaries.[5] The first line is the Robinson's transcription, followed by a reconstruction of what Robinson may have heard, and finally an English gloss.

moti nairi palati moti nowili retji-ropa palati nairi palati
one good God one bad devil God good God
makara waran-ngali retji-ropa makara tökana wini nairi palawa lookana
stop sky devil stop below fire good native dead
takara tini lawey waran-ngali palati nairi retji nowili
goes road up sky God good white man bad
palawa lookana takara tini tökana retji-ropa wini makara wini
native dead go road below devil fire stop fire


The last speaker of Bruny Island was likely Truganini, who is also widely accepted as the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine. She was a daughter of Mangana, Chief of the Bruny Island people. Her name was the word her tribe used to describe the grey saltbush Atriplex cinerea.[6] In her youth she took part in her people's traditional culture, but Aboriginal life was disrupted by European invasion. When Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1824, he implemented two policies to deal with the growing conflict between settlers and the Aborigines. First, bounties were awarded for the capture of Aboriginal adults and children, and secondly an effort was made to establish friendly relations with Aborigines in order to lure them into camps. The campaign began on Bruny Island where there had been fewer hostilities than in other parts of Tasmania.

Truganini, seated right

When Truganini met George Augustus Robinson, the Protector of Aborigines, in 1829, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber-getters, who then repeatedly sexually abused her. In 1830, Robinson, moved Truganini and Woorrady to Flinders Island with the last surviving Tasmanian Aborigines, numbering approximately 100. The stated aim of isolation was to save them,[citation needed] but many of the group died from influenza and other diseases. Truganini also helped Robinson with a settlement for mainland Aborigines at Port Phillip in 1838.[7] After about two years of living in and around Melbourne, she joined Pevay and three other Tasmanian Aborigines as outlaws, robbing and shooting at settlers around Dandenong and starting a long pursuit by the authorities. They headed to Bass River and then Cape Paterson. There, members of their group murdered two whalers at Watsons hut. The group was captured and sent for trial for murder at Port Phillip. A gunshot wound to Truganini's head was treated by Dr. Hugh Anderson of Bass River. The two men of the group were found guilty and hanged on 20 January 1842.[8] Truganini and most of the other Tasmanian Aborigines were returned to Flinders Island several months later. In 1856, the few surviving Tasmanian Aborigines on Flinders Island, including Truganini, were moved to a settlement at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart.[9][10]


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Bruny Island". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ (includes SE Tasmanian) at the Australian Indigenous Languages Database, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
  3. ^ Claire Bowern, September 2012, "The riddle of Tasmanian languages", Proc. R. Soc. B, 279, 4590–4595, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1842
  4. ^ Bowern (2012), supplement
  5. ^ J.E. Calder, 1874. "Native Tribes of Tasmania", Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 3:28
  6. ^ Ellis, V. R. 1981. Trucanini: Queen or Traitor. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. p.3
  7. ^ The Andersons of Western Port Horton & Morris
  8. ^ "Port Phillip.". Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW : 1839 - 1843) (Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia). 15 February 1842. p. 2. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Gough, Julie Oyster Cove at Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania
  10. ^ According to The Times newspaper, quoting a report issued by the Colonial Office, by 1861 the number of survivors at Oyster Cove was then 14:"...14 persons, all adults, aborigines of Tasmania, who are the sole surviving remnant of ten tribes. Nine of these persons are women and five are men. There are among them four married couples, and four of the men and five of the women are under 45 years of age, but no children have been born to them for years. It is considered difficult to account for this...Besides these 14 persons there is a native woman who is married to a white man, and who has a son, a fine healthy-looking child..." The article, headed ‘Decay of Race’, adds that though the survivors enjoyed generally good health and still made hunting trips to the bush during the season (after first asking "leave to go"), they were now "fed, housed and clothed at public expense" and "much addicted to drinking". The Times, Tuesday, 5 Feb 1861; pg. 10; Issue 23848; col A