K5: Bunuba

AIATSIS code: 
AIATSIS reference name: 


Thesaurus heading language
Thesaurus heading people
ABN name
ABS name
Horton name
Ethnologue name
ISO 639-3 code
Tindale name
Tindale (1974)
Bunaba, Punamba (of Ngarinjin), Kunamba (derogatory version by other tribespeople, 'kuna = dung), Bunapa, Booneba.
O'Grady et al (1966)
Bunapa, Punaba
Other sources
Bunapa, Punaba, Buniba, Bunaba, Bunuba [Rumsey 2000]
Bunaba, Punuba, Punaba, Booneba, Boonooba, Bunapa, Kunamba, Punamba, Punapa, Punupa, Buniba, Bunuban

Capell (1940:416) identifies two dialects of this language, an eastern dialect K67 and a western dialect K68.

Knight (2004:4-5) says that these dialects differ in pronunciation rather than grammar and that the differences are very minor. She notes that, while Capell (1940) and O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) claim extensive differences between the tense systems of the two dialects, there is no 'contemporary evidence' of this difference.

Bunuba is a non-classifying non-Pama Nyungan language. McGregor explains that Bunuba is closely related to Gooniyandi K6; they are not mutually intelligible, though many speakers are bilingual in both languages. Bunuba and Gooniyandi are described as belonging to the Bunuban language family (McGregor 2004:39).


  • Capell, Arthur. 1940. The classification of languages in north and north-west Australia. Oceania 10(3):241-272; 10(4):404-433.
  • Harvey, Mark. 2008. Non-Pama-Nyungan Languages: land-language associations at colonisation. AILEC 0802.
  • Knight, Emily. 2004. Aspects of Bunuba grammar and semantics, University of New England: MA. (MS 4161).
  • McGregor, William. 2004. The languages of the Kimberley, Western Australia. New York: RoutledgeCurzon.
  • O'Grady, G. N., C. F. Voegelin and F. M. Voegelin. 1966. Languages of the world: Indo-Pacific fascicle six. Anthropological Linguistics 8(2).
  • Rumsey, Alan. 2000. Bunuba. In Handbook of Australian languages, vol. 5, eds R.M.W. Dixon and Barry J. Blake, 34-152. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
State / Territory: 
Location information: 

The Bunuba language belongs to a large region in the sourthern Kimberley bounded (very roughly) by the Fitzroy River to the south-east, the Leopold Range to the north-east, the Oscar Range to the south-west, and the Napier Range to the north-west (Rumsey 2000:36). Most of Bunuba speakers currently live in Fitzroy Crossing, either at Junjuwa, a housing block on the Crossing town site about two kilometers to the south (Rumsey 2000:37).

The general territorial association was from the Oscar Range and Brooking Springs homestead in the south to Mt Broome and Stony Creek in the north.Sources in 2007 confirmed these boundaries, with the explicit addition that Fairfield homestead and Tunnel Creek were associated with Bunuba (Harvey AILEC 0802).


Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988): 

Ngurlu (A10 ) in Handbook of Kimberley Languages (1988).

2.2 Bunuba / Bunaba

Names of the language and different spellings that have been used:
Bonaba (Worms), Boonooba (KLS), Bunaba (Capell, Rumsey, Oates 1973, Oates & Oates, AIAS, Worms), Bunapa, Punaba (Kaberry, Tindale), Punapa, Punupa (Taylor)
According to Rumsey (pers.comm.), the language name is /bunuba/, but it is often pronounced with a central to low vowel - i.e. [a] or [(tm)] - in the second syllable. (In Halls Creek it is often pronounced with the vowel [i] in the second syllable, that is, as though it were Buniba.) Capell (1940:416) identifies two dialects, an eastern dialect and a western dialect; he claims that they differ mainly in that the eastern dialect has a simpler verbal conjugation than the western dialect.
Classification of the language:
Bunuban family, Bunubic (Bunabic) group
Identification codes:
Oates 1973: 44
Capell: K2
Present number and distribution of speakers:
Junjuwa (Fitzroy Crossing), Brooking Springs, Mowanjum (Derby), Halls Creek
Rumsey (pers.comm.) - 50 to 100
People who have worked intensively on the language:
Howard Coate, mid-1960s, Fitzroy Crossing
Alan Rumsey, 1978-1980, Mowanjum, Fitzroy Crossing
Charles Rohrbach, 1982, Fitzroy Crossing
According to Oates & Oates (1970:40), Fr.Peile has also recorded some material.
Practical orthography:
Rumsey uses a practical orthography, which employs the voiced stop series.
Word lists:
Capell (1940, 1966), Coate (1963), Hudson & Richards et al. (1976)
Textual material:
Coate (1963), Rumsey (1982)
Grammar or sketch grammar:
Coate (1963), Rumsey (1980)
Material available on the language:
Capell, A. 1940. The classification of languages in north and north-west Australia. Oceania 10. 241-272, 404-433.
_____ .1966. Bunaba vocabulary. 42pp. typescript. AIAS pMs 303. (A1;B1).
Coate, H.H. 1963. Bunaba. various paging. typescript. AIAS.
_____ .1966. Report [to A.I.A.S.] on linguistic work northwest Australia. 18.12.1965. 4pp. AIAS.
Hudson, J. & Richards, E., et al. 1976. The Walmatjari: an introduction to the language and culture. (Work Papers of SIL-AAB, B1) Darwin: SIL.
Nekes, H. & Worms, E.A. 1953. Australian languages. (Micro-Bibliotheca Anthropos, 10) Fribourg: Anthropos-Institut. 1058pp. AIAS MF 4.
Rumsey, A. 1978-80. [Bunuba fieldnotes]. manuscript.
_____ .1980. A brief tentative description of Bunaba. manuscript.
_____ .1982. Gun-gunma: an Australian Aboriginal avoidance language and its social functions. In Heath, J., Merlan, F. & Rumsey, A (eds). The languages of kinship in Aboriginal Australia. (Oceania Linguistic Monographs, 24) Sydney: University of Sydney. 160-181.
Worms, E.A. 1949. An Australian migratory myth. Primitive man 22. 33-38.
_____ .1957. Australian mythical terms: their etymology and dispersion. Anthropos 52. 732-768.
Language programme:
Oral Bunuba classes were run for the first time in the Fitzroy Crossing School in 1982, and again in 1985. A language maintenance programme would be suitable.
Language learning material:
Literacy material:

McGregor, William. 1988 Handbook of Kimberley Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. © Author.

AIATSIS gratefully acknowledge William McGregor for permission to use his material in AUSTLANG.


Kimberley Language Resource Centre has produced Bunuba yarrangi thangani : an interactive program for teaching an indigenous language (2000). In 2003 Wesley College in Melbourne embarked on a collaborative curriculum development project with the Fitzroy Valley Community, producing units of study in Bunuba and Walmajarri langauge and culture. The program has been successful and further collaborations are underway. (Oscar and Anderson 2009)

Patsy Bedford, Howard Coate, Emily Knight, Alan Rumsey, Anthony Peile
Indigenous organisations: 
Year Source Speaker numbers
1975Oatesa few
1990Schmidt50 - 100

Speaker numbers were measured differently across the censuses and various other sources listed in AUSTLANG. You are encouraged to refer to the sources.

Speaker numbers for ‘NILS 2004’ and ‘2005 estimate’ come from 'Table F.3: Numbers of speakers of Australian Indigenous languages (various surveys)' in 'Appendix F NILS endangerment and absolute number results' in McConvell, Marmion and McNicol 2005, pages 198-230 (PDF, 2.5MB).

Type Documentation Status Documentation Score
Word list Less than 20 pages 1
Text Collection Large (more than 200 pages) 4
Grammar Large grammar (more than 200 pages) 4
Audio-visual More than 10 3
Manuscript note: 
tape transcription/field note available

Knight, Emily. 2004. Aspects of Bunuba grammar and semantics, University of New England: MA.

Rumsey, Alan. 2000. Bunuba. In Handbook of Australian languages, vol.5, eds. RMW Dixon and B Blake, 34-152. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Source Family Group Sub-group Name Relationship
Ethnologue (2005) Bunaban     Bunaba  
Dixon (2002)   SOUTH KIMBERLEY SUBGROUP*   Bunuba (Bunaba) Bunuba (Bunaba) Rumsey (2000)
Wurm (1994) Bunaban Bunaba   Bunaba  
Walsh (1981) Bunaban Bunabic   Bunaba  
Oates (1975) Bunaban Bunabic   Bunaba  
Wurm (1972) Bunaban Bunabic   Bunaba  
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966) Bunaban Bunabic   Bunaba