Pertame Project

Pertame (Southern Arrernte) is a language that belongs to the country south of Alice Springs.

Pertame people lived along the Lhera Pirnta (Finke River) for tens of thousands of years, in small family groups, hunting, gathering and fishing. Colonisation devastated the Pertame population through massacres and new diseases. Those who survived worked for rations as stockman or domestic helpers at Horseshoe Bend, Idracowra and Henbury Stations. When equal pay for Aboriginal workers became compulsory jobs were hard to secure and many Pertame moved to Western Arrernte country at Ntaria (Hermannsburg mission).

Christobel Swan is one of the last fluent speakers of Pertame. She is working with the Arrernte Language Office to create Pertame language learning resources including: readers, songs, Thipa, (a Pertame Bird App) and the Pertame Dictionary from the Learner’s Wordlist of Pertame (IAD 1993). This work is supported by Indigenous Languages and Arts funding from the Australian Government. Vanessa Farrelly, one of Christobel’s grandchildren, has joined the Pertame Project team this year and is now working part time with Christobel, learning as much as she can about Pertame. She is also gaining skills in recording and curating language materials. We are really pleased to see Vanessa blooming in this role.

The Pertame Project recently completed work on documentation through a Priority Languages Support grant from First Languages Australia. This funding has enabled Christobel to record Pertame words, phrases and sentences as part of building an updated dictionary database. It has also mobilised the family to search for more material recorded from their forebears in the form of songs, letters, photographs and other material. The Pertame Project has also had a grant from the Community Broadcasting Foundation to make a film about their work on reviving and passing on their cultural knowledge, and this is in the final stages of production now. The film is based around country visits by the Pertame family group to Boomerang Bore, on Henbury Station. The film celebrates their cultural survival and revival, coming face to face with the difficult history of colonisation, yet looking forward optimistically to teaching the Pertame children about ways to maintain culture and language.


The Pertame Project acknowledges the support of ILA, First Languages Australia, the Community Broadcasting Foundation and the Fouress Foundation.

Pertame video portfolio (password protected)

Photographs from Boomerang Bore July 2017 (password protected)

Pertame country visit September 2016