Lardil people

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The Lardil are an indigenous Australian people and the traditional owners of Mornington Island in the Wellesley Islands chain in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland.


Lardil, now moribund, belongs to the Tangkic language family. The feature of kinship-sensitive pronominal prefixes had been ignored until they were discovered by Kenneth L. Hale in a study of Lardil.[1] A special second language, Damin thought of as a tongue created by the Yellow Trevally fish ancestor Kaltharr, and devised in part to mimic 'fish talk' was taught during the second degree of initiation (warama). This initiation register of specialized Lardil has fascinated linguists: it contained in its phonemic repertoire two types of airstream initiation, a pulmonic ingressive (l*) and a labiovelar lingual egressive (p'), unique among the world's languages. The secret language reinscribed in what looks like an indigenous form of semantic analysis the entire Lardil vocabulary into 200 words and has been described by Hale as a 'monument to the human intellect'.[2] Since Damin was a language involving rituals disapproved of by the missionaries, it disappeared with the outlawing and suppression of the Lardil ritual cycles.[3][4]

Ecology and lifestyle[edit]

Rockwall fish traps (derndernim) were constructed off the coast to catch varieties of fish as the tides receded.[5] The Lardil had a meticulous ethnobotanical knowledge and David McKnight has argued that 'their botanical taxonomy is of the same intellectual order as our botanical scientific taxonomy.'[6]

People raised within the missions, once detached from the hunter and gatherer lifestyle of the traditional community, were considered good workers to recruit for the pastoral stations, where they were employed as drovers and ringers.[7] Once the mission was closed, the elderly once more regained some control. However the Landil people who had spent their mature years on the mainland as farm workers had no traditional background for raising children to draw on. The result was that the generation of children raised from the 1960s onwards had no grasp of either the old or new work technologies and ethics.[8]

Christian missions[edit]

With the exception of Sweers Island, all the Wellesley Islands were set aside as a reserve.[9] Generally, once aboriginal resistance to the take-over of their lands was broken, they were concentrated in reservations and missions.[7] Presbyterian missionaries were granted permission to establish a mission on Mornington Island, and one was duly built in 1914.[9] A mission was established by the Rev. Robert Hall, his wife and two assistants, Mr and Mrs Owen, and Hall strove to institute economic self-sufficiency for the islanders' economy, having an all native crew manning the ketch, while organizing the harvesting and curing of trepang.[9] Their initial presence, according to one account, was received positively by the Landil people.[10] Hall was speared and killed in 1917 by a Landil man, 'Burketown Peter/Bad Peter'[10] a respected drover based in Burketown, who ran into trouble, often standing up for his rights, and wanted to kill a station owner with whom he fell out, but was dissuaded from doing so and told by Ganggalida people to return to his home country[9] after refusing to obey local demands that he move back to the mainland.[11][12]

Dormitory system[edit]

Hall was succeeded by the Rev. Wilson, who imposed a dormitory system, segregating children from their elders and thus breaking the chain of tradition through which tribal lore and law was transmitted.[13][7] The older generations were normally left to their own devices as missionaries concentrated on separating them from their children, and concentrating their efforts on the youngest: aside from religious indoctrination, sexual and marriage customs were challenged, and subject to control.[7] Few dormitory Landil girls married according to the traditional kin ship rules, given that the mission head played an influential role as intermediary.[14] The dormitory system was discontinued in 1954.[15]


The population of the island is no longer exclusively Landil, several tribal groups, among them the Kaiadilt, were displaced and concentrated on Bentinck island.[7] The Mornington Island Mission was substituted by a community administration in 1978.[13] The Shire council in the 1970s introduced a beer canteen, government developmental funds were seen as allowing one to dispense with the necessity to work, and, as alcoholism spread, the Mornington Island peoples began to rank as one of the communities with the highest suicide incidence in Australia.[8] Mornington Island, with its schools, churches, libraries and hospitals is often presented as a model community to outsiders. Its society however has been devastated by alcohol.[7]

Alternative names[edit]

  • Lardi:i (typo)
  • Laierdila.
  • Ladil.
  • Kunana. (name for Mornington Island)
  • Kuna'na.
  • Gunana.
  • Mornington Island tribe.
  • Kare-wa.(dialect name according to Walter Roth).[16]

Notable people[edit]



  1. ^ Evans 2007, p. 26.
  2. ^ Evans 2007, p. 33.
  3. ^ Evans 2007, pp. 33–34.
  4. ^ Alpher 1993, p. 102.
  5. ^ Memmott 2007, p. 68.
  6. ^ Clarke 2011, p. 12.
  7. ^ a b c d e f McKnight 2003, p. 1.
  8. ^ a b McKnight 2003, p. 2.
  9. ^ a b c d Scambary 2013, p. 40.
  10. ^ a b Finger 2012, pp. 195–197.
  11. ^ Rolls & Johnson 2010, p. 119.
  12. ^ Trigger 1992, p. 25.
  13. ^ a b Scambary 2013, p. 41.
  14. ^ Jacobs 2009, p. 314.
  15. ^ Trigger 1992, p. 74.
  16. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 179.
  17. ^ Donovan 2014, pp. 278ff.