Wiradjuri language revival

Last Wednesday (26 July) I went along to a ceremonial ribbon cutting on a bunch of books on Wiradjuri in the Parkes Shire Library (central west NSW). This prompted some thoughts on language revival, Wiradjuri, the German Saturday school I went to, and teaching language.


Wiradjuri is the language of much of central western New South Wales. Stan Grant Senior and John Rudder have been working since 1997 preparing language learning materials, available from:
Restoration House,
PO Box 150
O’Connor ACT 2602
Much of the material comes from two large nineteenth century word-lists (John says one is 5,000 words, one 3,000 words, which are HUGE by nineteenth century Australian standards), although there are some sound recordings from the twentieth century.
Stan and John’s work has been taken up in Forbes North Primary School, where Michele Herbert, a teacher, has been teaching Wiradjuri for several years, along with four Aboriginal tutors (they’d received a grant of $87,000 to pay them this year). She said she did this because she thought it was better to learn the culture of the land than an “outside language”. I don’t agree with the either-or-ness of this sentiment – nothing but class time and lack of teachers prevents kids from learning several languages at primary school. What can be taught of Wiradjuri is different from what can be taught of Chinese, and the two languages also differ in how they can be used. The teacher claimed that teaching the language has engendered greater respect and understanding of Aborigines and has dissolved racism in the playground. Having Aboriginal tutors accorded respect in the classroom is crucial for this.
Children from the Forbes North class took part in the launch, along with children from Peak Hill Primary School and Central West Christian School . One little girl gave a memorised welcome-to-country speech in Wiradjuri, and also a closing speech. Using traditional language for this kind of ceremonial purpose has proved important in the language revival movement elsewhere – as Rob Amery has documented for Kaurna in the Adelaide Plains. (Amery, Rob. 2000. Warrabarna Kaurna!: reclaiming an Australian language: Multilingualism and linguistic diversity. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.) The remainder of the children’s performances took me straight back to the end-of-year performances of the German Saturday School that I took part in as a child (it’s great to see that this Saturday School is still going – in the same building..). Instead of “O Tannenbaum”, a Wiradjuri version of “Head and shoulders, knees and toes”, and one that sounded like “Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree”. Instead of a German folk dance, girls in black shorts and singlets with skirts of red and yellow ribbons, and boys in red and yellow laplaps with an assortment of clapsticks performed miming dances. And, just as German parents and grandparents clapped, and mostly refrained from telling us what we got wrong, so too the Wiradjuri applauded the children. “I love all things Koori ” said Mrs Rita Keed, who helped organise a Wiradjuri language workshop nearly 20 years ago at Peak Hill, and has been working ever since on her Wiradjuri heritage.
All this is a start, it brings Aboriginal families and schools closer together, on terms of mutual respect and recognition of knowledge, in an area of Australia where for many years Aborigines have been invisible. Wiradjuri may not be fully revived – and judging by my diminishing knowledge of German, it’s a big ask to expect the children to become fully bilingual in Wiradjuri. But if it dissolves racism in the playground as Michele Herbert claims, then that is a big thing to weigh against the present Federal Government’s push to stop the teaching of Aboriginal languages and cultural concerns in schools.

16 thoughts on “Wiradjuri language revival”

  1. A descendent of Wiradjuri from around Wellington, NSW, but currently living in Melbourne, Vic. I’d love to start to learn what I can of Wiradjuri language. Can someone please let me know of any courses in Wiradjuri that are available.

  2. Yamandhu marang mudhyi Jane,,,, or hello friend, jane i hope you are well!!!!!!!!!!!
    i too was at the ribbon cutting and have known john rudder for many years now,i have just got back from a workshop with stan grant as well, i cant express how much these two men are needed for our language to keep going,just think of a country with no language what have you got?,a void,If we can just get a few of our kids in each town to get the language going as their L2 we would be laughing,white people bred out the colour and tied our elders up to trees like dogs to stop them talking our native language,it was hidden away for so long now its out and free,its a great era for wiradjuri language ,i was like the typical koori that went to a workshop organised by michelle herbert(this woman does a fantastic job) about 3 years ago and i was hooked,my heritage had come home to me,i am feeling more complete with every word i learn and speak, i know had 2 more schools here in parkes up and ready to go,i now do the wirajduri welcome in parkes for any function going for free,just so school kids can hear some words in our tribal tongue…
    Gemma from melbourne,if you get in contact with john rudder he has books and cd’s that will help you alot with the learning of the language

  3. Hi,im Jake.
    I am 31 non-indigeanous Australian who lives on the central coast.
    I have the utmost respect for Aboriginal spirituality and culture.
    I am privalidged to have learned alot about bushfood and medicine from a young age from koori people.
    Today after years of experience,research and speaking with much respected elders,I am working as a bush food and medicine consultant.
    I have recently been working at Kelso community
    centre in Bathurst with young Aboriginal people.
    This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and the community has been great to work with.
    There has been some debate
    as to wether or not the course will continue.
    I trust that the community will stand strong and not let something so valuable
    disapear.
    The man who started this course is Ian sutton, a very
    well respected ecoligist and a man who will become a champion of conservation.
    Thankyou for allowing me to
    experience this wonderful Wiradjuri country, and I hope to continue to give as much back to a culture that has totally enriched my life and given me purpose.

  4. Hi there.
    On a related issue, I am a member of an organisation/collective (The Weston A Price organisation) that is interested in reviving traditional foods and traditional nutrition. One of the most neglected of which is that of the Australian indigenous culture. In particular, I am wondering if there are some Wiradjuri elders who may be interested in showing us ‘colonists’ the traditions of the Bogong Moth Hunt. We would like to contribute any help we could to reviving this wonderful tradition. Hopefully this could lead to camps for local youths as well?
    Is it possible, if we had sufficient interest that we could have a Bogong Moth Hunt in the next summer. (IS it OK for women to participate in such an activty also?)
    If there are any interested Wiradjuri elders or teachers maybe they could email me at:
    gordon (at) abetz-rouse.com.au
    Thanks

  5. I had the pleasure of working with John and Stan on the recording the Wiradjury songbook CD for the reclaiming the language.
    Would anyone happen to have an up-dated phone or email contact as I have been trying to make contact with them since my relocation with no success. The email addresses, office and mobile phone numbers I have no longer connect to either of them.
    Thank you!

  6. Where do I start? My dad grew up in Wellington NSW. As his daughters we always said my dad was of Aboriginal descent (his colouring, facial features and down to earth attitude to life). He and my mum never talked about his family. His mum was unmarrid in 1925 when she had him. I recently visited a clairvoyant who out of nowhere told me I am of Aboriginal descent. The local tribe of my dad’s home town is the Wiradjuri tribe. How do I find out where the connection is? There are too many connections to ignore this lead. My grandchildren are of Aboriginal descent and I would love them to grow up knowing this history is from both sides of their family.

  7. Thankyou for persuing this…..Wiradjuri languages.
    My greatgrandmother was an Aboriginal from the
    Wiradjuri region.
    It would be great to learn more about her culture.

  8. Can anyone assist please. I lived in Gundagai in the 1930s & was told some stories by an Aboriginal gentleman ( with whom my father was friendly). I am now writing my memoirs & would like to know what became of him. The only name I knew him by was “Darkie”. Can any one help me please.

  9. A shame it’s still proving bizarrely difficult to purchase these Wiradjuri learning materials.

  10. I have completed Certificate 1.2.3 Wiradjuri language/s through Tafe with Uncle Stan as teacher. The resources people may be after to learn the language – books, CD, learning material, colouring books etc And the 2010 Revised Dictionary can be now ordered again. Not all items are available however we are attempting to preprint more. Please contact lidabeth65@gmail.com and I will forward information to The Grant family. May our language and history continue to grow

  11. [AW Imported from old site, sorry about the gravatar.]
    Hi Jane,
    My partner and I are both very interested in learning the Wiradjuri language but are not quite sure where to start. I am finding it difficult to purchase resources. Would you be able to point me in the right direction? Or suggest any courses that are being run, resources that are available or perhaps send me the contact details of someone who is teaching Wiradjuri? Thank you so much for your help.

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