In 1974 the late Leslie Russell sang and explained a number of songs in the Dieri language for Peter Austin. These songs are associated with Cooper Creek in Dieri country to the east of Lake Eyre. Leslie referred to this area as kudnarri, so the songs are called kudnarri wima where wima means ‘song, ceremony’. They are general songs that can be performed any time and can be listened to by anyone.
Each song consists of four lines (which may be repeated), and each line is made up of two words, with each word consisting of two syllables. This means that for some words the endings we would normally use in speaking are missing in the song (so all verbs consist of just the root, without any of the usual endings). Each song is about some event or happening that Leslie witnessed, and usually they evoke one or more images, rather than describing a scene in detail.
One of the songs is about wirlu the bird called ‘curlew’ (its full English name is Bush Stone Curlew or Bush Thick-knee, and its scientific name is Burhinus grallarius).
Here are the words of the song:
A big one is wading
The sound of his call
I am hearing
and it is made up of these words:
purka ‘wade in water’ (this is the root of the verb which normally occurs as purka-rna ‘to wade in water’ or purka-yi ‘is wading in water’)
karta ‘cracking sound’ (this refers to any short sharp sound of something cracking — you can hear an example of the curlew’s call below)
ngathu ‘I’ (used when I perform an action)
ngara ‘hear’ (this is the root of the verb which normally occurs as ngara-rna ‘to hear’ or ngara-yi ‘is hearing, is listening’
This song evokes the beautiful image of Leslie listening to the curlew calling out as it wades in the water of Cooper Creek. When speaking Dieri, rather than singing, we would say:
Wirlu pirna purkayi. Marna karta ngathu ngarayi
Here is a short video of curlews making their distinctive calls: