In Birdsville cemetery a little plaque surrounded by the red dirt commemorates a very gifted woman.
Plaque honouring Maudie Naylon Akawilyika. Photo courtesy Judith Salecich.
Maudie Naylon Akawilyika was born in the Kalamurina area of the Simpson Desert around 1885. Growing up she learnt the customs and beliefs of, not just her people, but of the tribes throughout the whole north-east of South Australia. She was multi-lingual, speaking the Indigenous languages Ngamani, Yarluyandi, Yawarawarrka and Diyari fluently, although her main language was the Simpson Desert dialect of Wangkangurru.
Maudie married Bob Naylon Milkili who was born around 1895 on the lower Diamantina in South Australia to a European man and Aboriginal woman. Bob and Maudie had three daughters: Ruby, Ethel and Esther who were all fluent speakers of the Wangkangurru language like their parents.
Bob Naylon Milkili's grave in the Birdsville cemetery. Photo courtesy Kym Warner
Maudie became a very important person in the research of German-born linguist Luise Hercus. He recorded a large amount of linguistic data during the 1960s and 1970s. Maudie also shared many traditional songs, beliefs, history and other aspects of Aboriginal culture.
Maudie also worked with Gavan Breen and Peter Austin, teaching them many words from the languages she knew. Many recordings were made of her speaking them.
Bob and Maudie Naylon (right) with Gavan Breen and his son Frank in Birdsville, 1973. Photo courtesy 'Innamincka Words'.
Sadly, when Maudie died in 1980, the languages Ngamini became extinct and Yarluyandi lost its last fluent speaker.
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'Naylon, Maudie Akawilyika (c.1885-1980), The Australian Women's Register, accessed 7th September, 2023, https://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/AWE1179b.htm
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