Aunty Jeanie Bell made an extraordinary contribution to the preserving and teaching of Aboriginal languages.

The Jagera and Dulingbara linguist worked at Alice Springs in the early 1980’s, teaching linguistics and training interpreters with the Institute of Aboriginal Development.

Not only did Ms Bell have a passion for keeping Indigenous languages alive but she also published a number of works which centred around the languages and culture of Aboriginal people in South-East Queensland which included historical dictionaries of the Gubbi Gubbi and Badtjala languages.

Gunditjmara woman Dr. Vicki Couzens, from the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, also spent decades working on language revitalisation and says Aunty Jeanie was a pioneer in many ways.

“For her to go off to uni was kind of groundbreaking. Linguistics wasn’t a major field that anyone was breaking into much back then. People might have been teachers or whatever, if we went to university, so I think also there was no real support within government, she (Aunty Jeanie) would have been out the front leading in this space because even now in the language space, there’s still only a small numbers of people compared to health, education or employment and all those things.”

In 1993, Aunty Jeanie was invited to deliver the Boyer Lectures and used the opportunity to champion Indigenous languages.

Ms Couzens says recognition from this prestigious academic talk series was particularly special.

“You know, Aboriginal linguists or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander linguists were very few, Jeanie was one of the first and not that we need that recognition in that context of our own cultural knowledge, but in the context of addressing those issues in the mainstream, it was a great honour to be invited to do that lecture.”

Aunty Jeanie’s son Damian says his mother put a lot of work into her own personal growth and was able to help others through language and connection.

He says his mum was a “wild woman”, always the first on the dance floor and she had a passion for life, culture and her family.

While her daughter Kamarra says her memory and legacy will “live on in our hearts and communities”.

Dr Couzens says Aunty Jeanie was a giant and an inspiration.

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(Main Image: Jeannie Bell at language workshop, Burleigh Heads, 1991. Photo by Michael Aird)