Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ucklun's Norf'k - Words as a Memory of our Past

This wonderful book by Peter Muhlhausler, Rachel Nebauer-Borg and Piria Coleman was launched last Saturday in the Pitcairn Norfolk Gallery of the Pier Store Museum. It is now available for sale at the REO Café and Bookshop and on-line through our website shop at

In the Introduction by Peter he says “This little book documents the history of Norfolk Island through the words of its language, for words of any language are not just labels for the world around us, but a memory of how speakers make their world their hoem, ‘home’. Words tell us about lifestyle, concerns and cultural practices of the speakers of a language and of the many changes that are experienced by each new generation of speakers. Unfortunately, languages, like humans, can experience a loss of memory and words and meanings can get lost”.

Described as ‘a work in progress’, the booklet details a range of Norf’k words and gives their meanings and origins. It clearly shows the richness of Norf’k expressions and the important role language plays in culture and identity. Thankfully the work by Shirley Harrison, Beryl Palmer Nobbs and Alice Buffett has meant that we have not lost many of the memories of our language and where we have come from. Peter describes these three as “pioneering in documenting and promoting the language”. The revival of the language since it was declared the official language of Norfolk Island in 2004 is so encouraging. Just one week earlier than this book launch, Rachel Nebauer-Borg launched her book of adult fiction written entirely in Norf’k, “Stidaun Short Letl”. We now have school resources and classes, books, poetry, song competitions and museum displays all dedicated to the Norf’k language.

At the launch all three of the authors spoke. From their words it was clear that a great amount of time, resources and, most importantly, passion has gone into their work and this booklet. It is one of the outcomes of a 2006 ARC Grant that supported a joint language project between the University of Adelaide, the Norfolk Island Government and the Museum. The Museum is very, very thankful that the copyright and income from all book sales is to come to the Museum Trust to be used for future language displays and resources.

At the launch it was also good to be able to welcome Anne Harrison, daughter of Shirley Harrison. Shirley was the daughter of Moresby and Mavis Buffett and completed her MA and PhD thesis on the origin and use of Norf’k words. The Museum has been the grateful recipient of all Shirley’s research material. Anne is now continuing her mother’s work and legacy with a MA in Norf’k nicknames and will be returning to the island several times over the next year to begin her research.

One of the words or phrases recorded in ‘Ucklun’s Norf’k’ is ‘myse fish’ or ‘mais fish’. It says: “While there are written records for toela and tintoela as meaning ‘sweetheart’ from the 1960s, and records of the word as meaning ‘girlfriend’ in the 1970s from Shirley Harrison’s informants who were born around 1900-1910, the related expression mais fish also meaning ‘sweetheart’ was recorded as early as 1938. Mais fish means ‘the best catch’ (not literally) or to be ‘caught: hook, line and sinker’. It is actually known by Island elders to have been used way before then. Eliza Clarkson, affectionately known to many as ‘Miss Everett’ recounted in a memoir of her life, “during my early teenage years I can remember, along with other girls in my age group, picking out the most handsome and friendly cable station young men, and having romantic thoughts about them. If they even just said to us hello myse fish, we would be over the moon with delight”.

This is a wonderful book to pick up and browse through – so many fascinating stories and information. To read it is to enter into the world, culture and lifestyle of Norfolk Islanders. It is highly recommended.

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