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The Worrorra often written as Worora are an indigenous Australian people of the Kimberley area of north western Australia.


The Worrorra language is now considered to be on the verge of extinction. The British-born Australian linguist Robert M. W. Dixon's career in Australian Aboriginal languages was first stimulated by his being informed by his tutor Michael Halliday of the extraordinary complexity of the indigenous languages spoken in the Kimberley region, and, on reading up on the topic, was particularly fascinated by descriptions of the intricacies of Worrorra which reportedly had 444 forms of the verb "to be".[1] Though the Worrorra have not as highly developed a system of gestural language as many of their tribal neighbours, they do have a rich repertoire of manual signs to indicate a great many species of fauna, to the point of distinguishing the sex of the animal or bird alluded to.[2]


The Worrorra were a coastal people, whose land extended from the area around Collier Bay and Walcott Inlet in the south, northwards along the coastlands of Doubtful Bay west of Montgomery Reef to the area of the Saint George Basin and Hanover Bay, encompassing Rathsay Water and Mount Trafalgar, running inlanld some 25–30 miles, as far as Mount Hann and Mount French. Seawards it included Heyward and Augusta islands.[3][4] On their southern boundaries lay the Umida and Unggumi people; to their west the Ngarinyin, and northwards, west of the Princess May Range, the Wunambal. The zone is consistently affected by tropical heat, with three seasons defined by the Worrorra: aajaajirri, the monsoonal season running from mid-December through to April; mawingki, in June–July, with a slight night-time cooling of temperatures, and then mirringunu, the torrid months from October to mid-December. The landscape is hilly sandstone terrain, quilted with spinifex and loose stands of bloodwood eucalypts, woollybutts and boabs.[5]

First contact[edit]

As early as 1838, the explorer George Grey had described 3 rock paintings in Worora territory. Inside a cave his group one imposing figure over ten feet long depicted on the roof, wrapped in a red garment and a circular head wraps with only the eyes visible, staring from the roof down towards anyone who ventured into the cave. On either side were two more, which he was unable to determine what they represented. Grey made a copy which he printed in his book.[6] Many wild speculations arose concerning their origin, Arthur Capell linking them to the diffusion of megalithic cults and ultimately to chambered tombs in Europe and Egypt.[7][8][9] These were later identified however as Wandjina figures in Worrorra mythology.

By the time intense contact with white settlers began, around 1912, the Worrorra people who still spoke their native tongue fluently were estimated to be around 300, with perhaps triple that figure if one includes those in surrounding districts who spoke it as a second language.[10]

Modern history[edit]

The Worrorra left their traditional terriotory in 1956, settling in Mowanjum and later also Derby, with a few resident at Mount Barnett station and Kalumburu. One effect of the transfer was to endanger their indigenous culture as it was conserved in their distinctive language, since they came to adopt either Since 1956 Worrorra people have lived at Mowanjum in close daily contact with people who spoke either Ungarinyin or Wunambal as their mother tongue. Later this was replaced by Kriol.[10]

Kunmunya Mission[edit]

In 1927 James Robert Beattie Love, a presbyterian minister, was appointed to head the Presbyterian Mission to the Aborigines which had been established at Kunmunya, known then as Port George IV, in 1912. Love had already been familiar with the area, which he visited in 1914, and had briefly taken charge of pastoral work there.[11]

Notable people[edit]

Daisy Utemorrah (1922–1993) was a poet and writer, fluent in Wunambal, Ngarinyin, and Worrorra, who gained international fame with her books recounting the traditional stories of her people.[12]

Alternative names[edit]

  • Worora, Wo'rora
  • Wurara, Worara (pronounced thus by the Ngarinjin)
  • Maialnga (unconfirmed northern horde name)[4]



  1. ^ Dixon 2011, p. 6.
  2. ^ Kendon 1988, p. 59.
  3. ^ Clendon 2014, pp. 2–3.
  4. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 261.
  5. ^ Clendon 2014, p. 3.
  6. ^ Grey 1841, pp. 214–215.
  7. ^ Mountford 1978, pp. 81–84.
  8. ^ Layton 1992, p. 127.
  9. ^ Edmond 2013, pp. 83–84.
  10. ^ a b Clendon 2014, p. 1.
  11. ^ Love 1986, p. 54.
  12. ^ Clendon 2014, p. 2.