Journal article

The wrong t-shirt: configurations of language and identity at Warruwi Community

Ruth Singer



On June 22nd 1916, Reverend James Watson was brought to Warruwi in a canoe by a group of Maningpurru people. A re-enactment of this event was staged at the beach called Angpungijpa or Watson's Landing on the 22nd of June 2016. The performers wore either a yellow or blue t-shirt and the two colours were interpreted by many participants as representing the languages Mawng and Kunwinjku. In interpreting the t-shirts, people made a direct connection between language and identity, invoking the ‘language tribe’ (Rumsey 1993). In other contexts, however, language ownership is claimed by connecting language to identity indirectly, via patrilineal clan (Merlan 1981). The multiple configurations of la..

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University of Melbourne Researchers


Awarded by ARC (DECRA fellowship)

Funding Acknowledgements

This work was only possible through the generosity of Indigenous people of Warruwi Community and the support of Warruwi Community School. For this paper I would especially like to thank Rosemary Urabadi, Rachel Meiyinbara, Janet Mardbinda and the young people I refer to as Lesley and Ranisha. Salome Harris, Jill Vaughan, Murray Garde, Gerald Roche, and two anonymous reviewers kindly gave very useful comments. Funding came from the ARC (DECRA fellowship DE140100232), SOAS (University of London), the University of Melbourne and the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung.