My Username

Many people ask why I (DonovanBaarda) use "abo" as my username. There is a long history behind it :-)

ABO first appeared in computer-land on the ICE message system running on the "cyber" at RMIT (NOS-2 anyone?) in 1986 with the message "ABO leaves tracks on ICE", along with a suitably geeky bit of ascii art. I have been using "abo" as my username ever since, and have had the email address since 1995.

I grew up on an Aboriginal reserve in Central Australia (Yuendumu) where I learned to speak Warlpiri. In 1980 I went to a posh boarding school in Victoria, I was immediately nick-named "Abo", which is a derogatory abbreviation of Aboriginal. After 6 years of being called "Abo", (along with many other even worse racist names for Aboriginals), the name stuck. The racist origin of the name doesn't bother me any more. For me the name has its own history.

I remember being introduced to a new student as "Abo" by one of my school mates. The new student commented "he doesn't look very dark, in fact I think I have a darker tan than he does", to which my mate laughed and said "it's not because he looks like one, it's because he is one". This is not true, but it does show that my mate, despite being the heaviest user of racial slurs and jokes, understood something critical that even many "non-racists" don't; culture is a more important part of identity than race.

Through my high-school years, I played a few arcade games (battlezone, galaga, etc). These games allowed you to enter your three letter "initials" when you got a high score. I took to entering "ABO", because it identified me and was pretty unique. Even now, the use of "ABO" on arcade games and the internet is pretty rare. If you find an "ABO", it is probably me (,, etc). Probably the negative origins help here :-)

Because arcade games only allowed capitals, I used the capitalised form "ABO" most of the time. Unix usernames and email have a convention of being lowercase, so I use "abo". I still favor the uppercase "ABO" whenever I can. If I need to use a name where "ABO" has been taken or more than three letters are required, I use the variants "ABO2" or "ABO_2".

Over time "abo" has become considered more politically incorrect, and I am starting to find myself a little uncomfortable using it. However, I also find it a bit strange that using an abbreviation of Aboriginal as my username is considered questionable, but shackling Aboriginal children in spit-hoods or systematically destroying Aboriginal culture and communities with TheIntervention is considered fine. It also turns out "abo" is a pretty common abbreviation of an Indian name, so these days it is often already taken as a username on new services.

So I'm using "dbaarda" more and more these days (which is also usually free), but continue to use my "abo" username where there is a long established history.

More Questions

I recently got an email from a 9 year old Girl in England doing a school project about Australia. Her parents knew me, and that I grew up on an Aboriginal Reserve, and suggested she send me some questions. I thought these questions and my answers might give people some lighter context on my past.

Q) I understand that you grew up on an aboriginal reservation - where is the reservation based?

I grew up a Yuendumu, in the Northern Territory It is here;

Just keep zooming out until you recognize something :-)

Q) What is the name of the Aboriginal Tribe that you were with?

Most people at Yuendumu are Warlpiri people. A pretty good summary is here;

But there were several other different tribes nearby, so there were also Pitjantjara, Luritja, Pintupi, Arrente, and various other people there too. Many people spoke several different Aboriginal languages to various degrees. A map of neighboring tribes is here;

But most people were Warlpiri and everyone spoke Warlpiri most of the time.

Q) How old were you when you lived with them?

My parents moved there when I was about 4 years old. My brother was 3 years old, and my sister was a baby. My parents still live there, 48 years later. My brother and sister and their kids also live there on-and-off. They often go and live in other places like Alice-Springs, Adelaide and Melbourne for a couple of years, but often end up going back.

Q) Why did you go to live with the Aboriginal Tribe?

My father is a Geologist, and often worked in remote places exploring for minerals. My mother is a primary school teacher, and she would get work in whatever town was closest to where my Dad was working. After I was born, before my parents moved to Yuendumu they lived in Melbourne, Marblebar, Canada, and Darwin. My dad was working on an exploration rig near Yuendumu, so my Mum got a job teaching there. My mum was sick of always moving everywhere, so she decided we were not going to move again.

So after my dad's exploration job was finished there, he quit his job with the mining company (Central Pacific Minerals), and started looking for a job at or near Yuendumu. At that time there was a small mining company at Yuendumu and the manager was retiring, so my Dad applied for and got the job. My dad only retired from that job recently. The Yuendumu Mining Company was one of the very few Aboriginal owned mining companies, and tried to maximize Warpiri ownership and control of mining on Warlpiri lands. It had it's finger in many different mining ventures in the area over the years.

My mum taught at the Yuendumu school, becoming the teacher-linguist helping print books in Warlpiri and teaching non-Warlpiri teachers how to teach Warlpiri kids. She officially retired some time ago, but still works as a contractor there doing pretty much the same job.

Q) Did you learn their language?

Yuwayi, ngaju karna pina-juku warlpiri wankami... witakari. (Yes, I can still speak warlpiri... a little.) When I went to Yuendumu Primary School it was a bi-lingual school, which meant they taught everything in Warlpiri and English. In the early primary years it was mostly Warlpiri, and many of my teachers were Warlpiri people, teaching all us kids in their own language. In the later years they included more English. This meant I was constantly surrounded by, and taught by, people who's first and favorite language was Warlpiri, so as a little kid I learned it pretty quickly, and I spoke it a lot all through my primary school years.

Because I learned to speak it as a kid I don't have a funny accent, and I sound like a native speaker. Warlpiri has some sounds in it that are very different to English, and when any non-Warlpiri person tries to learn to speak it, they sound very strange and funny to any native speaker. However, when I went to high school I went to a boarding school in Geelong so I didn't get to speak Warlpiri much any more, and I never really learned to speak it like an adult. This means I speak Warlpiri like an 11 year old Warlpiri kid. When I meet Warlpiri people who don't know me very well, they are often stunned and shocked to hear a white person speak Warlpiri like a Warlpiri person, but after speaking to me for a little while they realize I speak like a little child.

I could tell you lots of interesting things about Warlpiri, but I'll tell you only one so you don't have too much information.

In English, we have "singular" (one thing) and "plural" (lots of things) forms of words, like "cat" and "cats". In Warlpiri, they have "singular" (one thing), "dual" (two things), and "plural" (more than two things), like ngaya (cat), ngaya-jarra (two cats), and ngaya-patu (more than two cats). So in English there is singular "me" and plural "us". In Warlpiri they also have "inclusive" (including the person you are talking to) and "exclusive" (not including the person you are talking to) versions of "us", as well as the dual and plural forms. This means they have five different words for "me/us"; ngaju (just me), ngajarra (us two, including the person you are talking to), ngalijarra (us two, not including the person you are talking to), nganimpa (us more than two, including the person you are talking to), and ngalipa (us more than two, not including the person you are talking to).

This makes it much easier to say some things in Warlpiri than in English.

Q) Who was your best friend?

My best friend in primary school was Dennis Jupurrula Nelson. He's still my friend, and we speak occasionally on the phone. It's one of the few times I get to speak Warlpiri any more.

When we were little, me, Joe (my brother) and Dennis used to go out into the bush and cook things to eat in a little fire we would make. We use to take bread to toast, a tin of beans, whatever we could grab from the kitchen. We'd sometimes find some bush-tucker to cook like yuparli, or berries to eat like yakajirri or yurnkumu.

One day Dennis grabbed some eggs from the kitchen. After we'd lit our little fire, he buried them in the ashes to cook. That's how most Warlpiri cooking is done; you bury kangaroos or goanna's in the ashes and cook them in their skins, like roasting potatos in their jackets. But, as we discovered, if you do that with eggs, they EXPLODE! Bits of hot cooked egg went everywhere, all over us and just everywhere. We were so hungry we picked up the bits and ate them anyway, and they were delicious! We all decided that Dennis-cooked-eggs was our favorite way to cook eggs.

Q) Can you play the didgerydoo?

No, not really. Warlpiri people don't have didgerydoo's. Australia is very big, and there were over 200 different Aboriginal tribes with different languages and different customs. In Switzerland they have a famous instrument called an "Alphorn", ( but you don't have to go very far away from Switzerland to find people who have never played or heard an Alphorn. Australia is about as big as Europe, and it had about as many different people, languages, and cultures. The didgerydoo is Australia's Alphorn.

Actually, that's not quite true; didgerydoo's were probably more widely used than Alphorns. Many coastal tribes all the way from north around to the east used didgerydoos, but they were never used in Central Australia and I'm not sure about in the south or west. Part of the problem in Central Australia is, to make a didgerydoo you need a nice straight tree-trunk that gets hollowed out (I think by termites, but I'm not sure). In the Central Australian desert the plants tend not to grow like that... they are either very stick-like bushes, or big curly trees.

Q) Does your family still live there?

Yes, my mum and dad still live there, and so do my brother and sister and their kids at least some of the time.

Q) Did you go hunting for food with the aboriginal people?

Yes, often. Wirlinyi "hunting" included any kind of food hunting/gathering, so kangaroos, emus, bush-turkeys, goanna's, honey-ants, witchetty-grubs, yams, fruits, berries, seeds, etc. There is a huge variety of bush foods, all of them have their own names and stories and songs that help you remember everything about them and where and when they can be found.

The Warlpiri people are called the honey-ant people, because during the dry season when food was scarce they would survive on honey-ants. I found a video of digging up honey-ants for you.

Q) What weapons did you use?

I used a rifle to shoot a kangaroo once, but mostly I watched other people use rifles to shoot kangaroos, emu's, and bush-turkeys. I have seen old men demonstrate how they used to use spears and boomerangs for hunting when they were young, but most people use rifles now. For goannas you usually dig them up and hit them with a kuturu (wooden digging stick). I killed one with a tire-lever once as it was climbing quickly up a tree to get away after we dug it out.

I've also hit a kangaroo in a car, and then eaten its tail (it was too big to take it all, it was the middle of the night, and the car's battery was smashed so we had to drive very slowly in the dark to get home, so we only had time to take it's tail). My dad once ran over a goanna on the way to Adelaide. We found a baby death-adder snake still wriggling in its stomach when we gutted it. We cooked it in the Adelaide Police Station because when we got there it was a total fire-ban day (because of the risk of bush fires), and when we asked at the police station where we could cook it, they let us use their barbecue.

Q) Did you have to go to school?

Yes. Mum made me... but I also liked going.

I didn't have to wear shoes. No one wore shoes to Yuendumu school. When we used to go to Victoria for Christmas to see our Grandparents, mum used to make us wear sandals. She thought they were a compromise between shoes and no-shoes. I hated having to wear sandals. They made my feet hurt.

Q) Was there a certain type of animal that you hunted?

I've dug up witchetty-grubs from inside the roots of a particular type of ngarlkirdi (witchitty grub) tree, and seen a different kind of witchitty-grub pulled out of hole in a gum tree with a hooked stick. I've also dug up honey-ants that burrow under a certain type of mulga tree who's branches bend down and point at where the honey-ants are. I've helped gut and prepare a kangaroo for cooking in a big fire in a sandy hole. I've helped dig up yams from sandy dunes when the cracks they make in the ground tell you they are ready. I've eaten heaps of yummy yakajirri berries growing on the side of roads after the rains, making sure not to eat the other kind that look almost the same but are poison. I've climbed kanta trees and thrown sticks to knock down kanta gourds, eating the inside linings like coconut and slurping out the strange berry-like grub that makes the kanta gourds grow around it. I've picked and cooked green yuparli after the rains, eating the sweet white flesh. I've shared eating a big rock-python that was caught and cooked by others on a school excursion.

But mostly I've eaten lots of kangaroo and goanna, which are the main most popular animals to hunt. Goanna is probably my favorite kind of meat.

Q) Thank you for your time I am very great full Emoji.

No worries. It was fun writing this... it dug up a bunch of fond old memories...

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