Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics


Tiger Morris, a changing life in the desert

In this project we are repurposing a Central Australian oral history as an educational resource. The interview with Tiger Morris that the project is based on was done by Fiona Gibson in 2001 in a project about Warlpiri education.

Project output

The project produced an illustrated, bilingual book with audio. It is a valuable educational resource, based on a uniquely Central Australian story.

The book features:

the bilingual interview, organized thematically, with audio read by Fiona Gibson

pages/sections highlighting various aspects of the content, eg. places, artefacts, bush tucker, changing understanding of money, time

contextual primary source archival documentation, such as letters, references in articles to locate Tiger’s story in the broader thinking of the times.

a comprehensive map of the area, with assistance from CLC, including places mentioned interview


As part of a UN-funded, Warlpiri Language and Literacy, insider-research project in 2001, long-time educator, Fiona Gibson, recorded a detailed bilingual, biographical interview with Nyirrpi elder, Tiger Morris (dec.). His interview is rich in the history of the area around Yuendumu and Nyirrpi. Born in 1924, the interview offers narrative on Tiger’s early bush life, early contact with non-Indigenous people, and events leading to the beginnings of the community of Nyirrpi.

Why is the project important?

The project responded to a request from Fiona Napaljarri Gibson1 and members of her family and the Nyirrpi community to make the interview available for inter-generational transfer of language, history and cultural knowledge. The history of the time saw dramatic changes for those such as Tiger, and it is valuable for younger generations to have an opportunity to learn about it. Nyirrpi community came about due to the drive for self-determination coupled with extraordinary resilience, strength and courage of their forebears. Future generations cannot help but feel proud of their forebears. The interview describes history, culture and country, adding a number of place names and features to those maps that are currently available.

This book is important as bilingual reading material. Whereas English speakers being educated in English have access to a wealth of reading material, speakers of Aboriginal languages in remote communites have a limited range of reading material in the Indigenous language. Told in Warlpiri, and translated into English, this book is important in that it contributes to the stock of Warlpiri language resources.

Approach and methods

Starting with FM’s interview with Tiger Morris, the book expands on a number of key topics so as to form an educational resource book. Through Tiger’s story students are given access to learning more about the history of Central Australia. FM and I are working through the text together and discussing what other information is available and where to find it or who to speak to in order to expand on the topics mentioned by Tiger. Some of these include:  Aboriginal life in the bush prior to white people coming, bush tucker that was eaten, the arrival of white people and the various interactions that brought, wolfram mining at Mt Doreen and building houses at Yuendumu, building the Nyirrpi road and setting up a community back in traditional country.

This project is an intercultural collaboration. FM and I worked together on the original project in 2001. We bring different skills and knowledge to the partnership, both of us having an interest in exploring the possibilities to maximise its potential for use as an educational resource.

Using an inquiry process we are seeking out images, photos, historical documents, and individuals who have insights into and knowledge of the context (eg. historians, missionary families). In this way we are able to connect details in the interview with other source material. This additional material adds context to the interview. So far we have met up with various people including Jol Fleming, the son of a missionary family at Yuendumu from 1950 to 1970. Jol has an amazing memory and lots of fabulous resources and photos. We have followed the road from Nyirrpi to Yuendumu, taking photos of each location mentioned in Tiger’s story. Each piece of information leads us to something else interesting, so we intend to weave these snippets into the overall work.

Project benefits

There are a number of benefits to be gained from the product/s produced during the project. Support for a community initiative In pursuing this project, we are taking a lead from a local Indigenous teacher and leader by supporting a project where there is already community momentum.

Provision of an education resource. Being small and very remote, Nyirrpi often misses out on the resourcing and interest from the outside world that the larger, more accessible communities enjoy. Consequently, it has fewer resources coming from its elders.

A bilingual book based on local history. This story is told by a Nyirrpi elder in his own language, Warlpiri. Warlpiri is the first language of the community and students, and accompanied by English translation, this resource will be of value for use within the bilingual or two-way education program of the Warlpiri communities. It, like other locally-produced bilingual resources, serves as a means of intergenerational transfer of knowledge and language, describing connection to country and culture.

A book for people who want to learn more about Central Australian people and history. This book provides a first-person, little-documented perspective on events in Central Australia during the 20th Century, a time when Aboriginal lives changed dramatically. Coupled with supporting documentation and images, it will be relevant to people interested in the history of Central Australia from the Aboriginal side of the story.

Fiona Napaljarri Gibson (FM)

Fiona Gibson, a Warlpiri elder from Nyirrpi community, has worked as a teacher and education advocate for more than 30 years. It is FM’s wish that Tiger’s story be published for the Nyirrpi community.

Angela Harrison

Angela Harrison, manager of CALL, teacher/linguist, worked with FM and other Warlpiri researchers on the original UN-funded language and literacy project in 2001. Ange has worked in the field of Aboriginal language and education during her 20 or so years in Central Australia.  

FM and I have worked together on this book over the last couple of years. 

Tiger’s story includes:

·      his early traditional life moving with his family group from place to place in the Tanami Desert. 

·      First contact with whitefellas at the wolfram mine at Mt Doreen during the war 

·      life at the new community of Yuendumu where he worked under whitefella leadership and with countrymen to build the first houses. 

·      Learning English and becoming a good cross-cultural leader for his people was a source of pride for Tiger. 

·      Tiger’s telling of the inspiring story of his people’s move away from Yuendumu in the 1970s. Yuendumu was struggling under the weight of too many people from too many different places, living all together in one place, the intensity of which was causing unrest among the young people.

·      In 1975 small group with picks and axes cleared a road from Yuendumu to Nyirrpi

The work has involved: 

·      Recording audio

·      Working through the Warlpiri

·      Working through the English translation

·      sourcing images from the UPC, Warlpiri Media, Warlukurlangu, Jol Fleming, National Library, and other people like Serita Quinlivan and Nic Peterson.

·      Collecting documents for a curriculum guide to go with the book

Still to do (2021):

·      Check details

·      Finalise the map

·      Get quotes from printers

·      Publish with Batchelor Press

Rerecord the audio with two speakers 


The way we’ve worked – whenever FM is in town we get together to work on the next stage. Currently we are working with Tina Tilhard, the designer.

Issues – COVID has meant that we have had less time together in the same place to complete this project. Nevertheless, we are onto it again and aiming to complete within months.

Ngulajuku audio - page list below