In the Time of their Lives

In the Time of their Lives

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In the Time of their Lives is a rich evocation of ‘wangka kutjupa-kutjuparringu’: how communication and social interaction has altered among the Ngaanyatjarra, Ngaatjatjarra and Pitjantjatjara people of Australia’s Western Desert. As a Ngaatjatjarra woman Elizabeth Marrkilyi Giles Ellis takes us deep into the rich linguistic and cultural practices of her community. Having collaborated with linguistic anthropologist Inge Kral for more than a decade, their combined insights portray a detailed and intimate picture of remote Indigenous Australian life rarely achieved.

This book looks at sociocultural change through the prism of language. It interweaves memory, history and translated interviews with a close examination of everyday life that takes us inside the lived experience of Western Desert people, across multiple generations, since first contact with Anglo-Australians in the 1930s. In tracing these changes through text, image and film, the authors explore the unique oral traditions of the Ngaanyatjarra: the speech styles, respect registers and verbal arts practices of this desert group. Importantly they take us into the lives of children and young people. They open a window to storytelling and Western Desert language socialisation practices to show so clearly that participating in society and using language are intertwined activities. With an ultimate focus on the current youth generation and the unfolding impact of digital technologies they reveal how new communication modes are sparking a regeneration of creative cultural processes, underpinned by the enduring connection that Western Desert people have to kin and country.


It is important for us to read our own stories and to keep the tradition of our language for our future generations.
Dereck Harris
Chairman, Ngaanyatjarra Council

In the Time of their Lives is a wonderful book that honours the extraordinary heritage and historical trajectory of Western Desert (Ngaanyatjarra) speech, the importance of speech and the management of its varieties with a complexity and insight we have rarely seen in print. With a blend of interviews in translation, close examples of speech, first person testimony, photographs, film clips and historical material, Kral and Ellis have brought attention to the changing sensory world of Yarnangu, of sight sound and bodily experience as central to Ngaanyatjarra sociality and personhood. It is rare, indeed, to have such respectful re- search flow from the intimate and personal perspective of a committed member and active participant in Ngaanyatjarra life.
Fred Myers, Silver Professor of Anthropology
New York University