UQ linguist helps connect people with Country

4 Jul 2023
Felicity Meakins works with Gurindji co-authors Topsy Dodd Ngarnjal and Violet Wadrill on the ‘Tamarra’ story text (Photo: Briony Barr, 2021).

Professor Felicity Meakins from UQ’s School of Languages and Cultures has contributed to an educational First Nations book which takes kids inside the life of termites through storytelling from the Gurindji People.

Set to launch on 5 July, ‘Tamarra: A Story of Termites on Gurindji Country’ incorporates educational storytelling and scientific illustration to explore Gurindji connections to Country.

Having worked with Gurindji Community as a field linguist for over 20 years, Professor Meakins feels privileged to be a key non-Indigenous contributor of the book.

“We are excited to bring together Gurindji ecological knowledge with Western Science through beautifully illustrated artworks,” Professor Meakins said.

“Termites are a much-maligned insect, but Gurindji mob are trying to challenge non-Indigenous views on this.

“It’s been wonderful to see everyone from such diverse backgrounds come together and take readers on an educational and cultural journey through Gurindji Country.”

Created as a collaboration between over 30 First Nations and non-Indigenous contributors, the story and artworks explore how termites, and their mounds connect different parts of Country, from tiny Gurindji babies and their loving grandmothers to spiky spinifex plants growing in the hot sun.

“We all come to this project with a shared interest in termites,” Professor Meakins said.

“They’re the only insect that can eat and recycle dead spinifex and with the bacteria in their gut turn it into something that can be used to do a variety of things that benefit so many.

“From building mounds to feeding their termite family, to being food for other animals, and of course being a valuable Bush medicine,” she said.

The book brings together different perspectives to challenge views and connect people to Country while telling a story of practices that have been passed on through generations.

"We see this book as a part of the reconciliation process where we listen to one another, show a mutual respect for each other’s knowledge systems and create together.

“Every part of this project is collaborative, from the project design to the research, writing and beautiful artworks.”

Professor Meakins has dedicated her research efforts to First Nations language revitalisation, adding this educational kids book to an impressive collection of dictionaries, grammars and papers.

‘Tamarra: A Story of Termites on Gurindji Country’ will launch through Avid Reader on Wednesday 12 July accompanied with an animation which is currently being piloted on the Tamarra website.