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Wangkatha, otherwise written Wongatha, Wongi or Wangai, is a language and the identity of eight tribal groups of the Eastern Goldfields region, which is in the south-eastern corner of Western Australia and includes the area along the Great Australian Bight to the South Australian border known as the Nullarbor Plain.


The term wangai/wongi derives from a verbal root meaning "to speak".[a]

The more formal and correct term is either Wangkatha or Wongatha.[2]


The Wongi, being very active in their traditional country, were the first to show European and British explorers their country, notably water and precious minerals in their country. The Wongi showed Irish explorer and discoverer Paddy Hannan his first gold nugget. Being a valuable stone, the Wongi worshipped it due to their traditional Tjukurrpa (Lore) under their traditional practices and governance systems. Still today, the Tjurkurrpa is respected and highly revered. During the early 1900s the Wongutha/Wangkatha were considered the "most fierce, wild and untamable" of all Aboriginal people in Western Australia. The Australian Government did not know what to do with these people.

Therefore, white missionaries from New South Wales disembarked to Western Australia to establish an area that is now known as the Mount Margaret Aboriginal Community. Many of the Aboriginal people who are of the Wongutha/Wangkatha language were part of Mount Margaret. All Aboriginal people who were placed in Mount Margaret were educated by the western system and learnt about Christianity. There came other neighbouring language/tribal groups who spoke similar languages and shared Tjurkurrpa, such as the Pitjitjintjarra and the Ngaanyantjarra. Other foreign language groups with different languages and customs also were placed at Mount Margaret Mission which included Ngadju, Tjupan and Mirning.


The Wongi or Wongatha/Wangkatha language tribal peoples originate from the following areas; Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Leonora, Menzies and Laverton. Wongi consists of eight tribes: Maduwongga, Waljen, Ngurlutjarra, Nyangaynatjarra, Bindinni, Madatjarra, Koara and Tjalkatjarra. The Wongi Wongatha-Wonganarra Aboriginal Corporation was put into liquidation in 2010.[3] Today, their native title land rights interests are represented by the Goldfields Aboriginal Land and Sea Council Corporation.[4]

Notable peopleEdit

  • Mrs Sadie Canning MBE OAM. Mrs. Canning was the first Aboriginal Nurse and Matron in Australia. Mrs. Canning was the head matron at Leonora Hospital in the 1950s. The book called "Our Black Nurses: in their own right" recognizes Mrs. Canning as the First Aboriginal Nurse and Matron in Australia.
  • Mrs May O'Brien BEM. Mrs. O'Brien was the first Aboriginal female teacher in the state of WA.
  • Mr. Ben Mason OBE. Mr. Mason was an Aboriginal Evangelist and the only Aboriginal Evangelist to have travelled with the late Billy Graham Ministry's.
  • Mr. James Brennan OAM. Mr. Brennan was a local WW2 Veteran and Survivor.
  • Miss Gloria Brennan. Miss Brennan was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from the University of Western Australia (UWA), having completed her honors in a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Anthropology and Linguistics. The Gloria Brennan scholarship is still vacant each year to aspiring Aboriginal university students at UWA.
  • Miss Geraldine Hogarth AM. Miss Hogarth was awarded the Member of the Order for Australia Medal due to her commitment to preserving the Koara dialect and Aboriginal health.
  • Miss Annette Stokes AM. Miss Stokes was awarded the Member of the Order for Australia Medal for her contribution to Aboriginal health research.
  • Mr. Daniel Wells. AFL footballer Daniel Wells was drafted to North Melbourne Football Club.


Wangkatha is still spoken and has roughly 200–300 fluent speakers. Most speakers reside in their traditional country including Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Menzies, Leonora, Laverton, Cosmo Newberry and Mulga Queen. The eight tribes who speak Wongi as a collective, have also their own distinct dialects which are also their tribes.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The early ethnographer R. H. Mathews, reported that the Loritja verb for "to speak" was wonkanye, while that of the tribe around Erlistoun, the traditional area of the Pini, was wongi.[1]



  • "AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia". AIATSIS.
  • Bedells, Stephen J. (2010). Incarcerating Indigenous people of the Wongatha lands in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia: Indigenous leaders' perspectives. Edith Cowan University M.A. thesis.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Elkin, A. P. (1943) [First published 1938]. The Australian Aborigines: How to Understand Them (2nd ed.). Angus and Robertson.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • "Goldfields Land and Sea Council". Goldfields Land and Sea Council. 2016.
  • Mathews, R. H. (October–December 1907). "Languages of Some Tribes of Western Australia". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 46 (187): 361–368. JSTOR 983478.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Muller, Craig (2004). "The 'allurements of the European presence': Examining explanations of Wongatha behaviour in the northern Goldfields of Western Australia" (PDF). Aboriginal History. 38: 59–87.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • "Notice of annual meeting of creditors: Wongatha Wonganarra Aboriginal Corporation". ASIC. 2016.
  • "Tindale Tribal Boundaries" (PDF). Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Western Australia. September 2016.