[from Sally Dixon]
I was privileged to attend the WA Language Centres conference in Perth last week. Delegates from 5 regional language centres and several language programs spent three days swapping stories at the wonderful Kaditj internet café and conference facility, and probably could have talked for at least another week.
We were warmly welcomed by Noongar elders Dorothy Winmar and Gloria Nora Dann, and Justina Smith who shared her beautiful blend of contemporary and traditional Noongar dance. The progress of the Noongar language program has been breathtaking. Since presenting their very first book at the last conference only two years ago, the team (in partnership with Batchelor Press) has developed a great pile of resources with several different Noongar clans. There are also twelve short language lessons in development for NITV so stay tuned in for those. We also got to hear how language has been incorporated into the Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Bunbury. Moorditj!
Heading up north a bit, the Irra Wangga Geraldton Language Centre presented a thoughtful discussion of some of the problems with using the term “last speaker” in terms of how it might lead to over-looking the language knowledge that prevails even situations of severe language endangerment. The Karlkurla Language and Culture Aboriginal Corporation from Kalgoorlie showed us how they have become experts at forging relationships with local businesses in order to continue making some excellent language and culture resources. Calendars showcasing the Tjartitjimpu “Seven sisters” dreaming from down their way are an inspired way to get Malpa language and culture into everyone’s kitchens (at least that’s where I put mine).
The team from Wangka Maya showed how, in addition to their language work, they have been providing essential services to the Pilbara such as Cultural Awareness Training, Media production, Stolen Generations education & Link-Up services, and Translating and Interpreting. Wangka Maya Chairperson Bruce Thomas shared some of his videos to highlight the very personal and intimate nature of his efforts to record language and culture for the young people. Lesley Woods also delivered an insightful presentation on the role of the language worker within language centres, and discussed some simple measures that can be taken to advance their standing (such as award pay scales, contracts and job descriptions), and thus the sustainability of our language work.
Heading up to the Kimberley, we had a lovely demonstration of the intensive Nyikina dictionary working being conducted by Madjulla Inc in Broome. Via the free SIL program Lexique Pro, corrections, expanded definitions, example sentences, audio recordings and pictures were added in real-time. Great stuff. Lexique Pro is also being used as a “living dictionary” further east at the Kimberley Language Resource Centre, where they are advancing a capacity building model to skill up local people in all the facets of language documentation. Looks like Lexique Pro is worth another look!
A five-strong delegation from the farthest corner of WA, Mirima Dawang Woorlab-gerring Language Culture Centre in Kununurra, impressed us all with their broad range of activities. For example they have been advancing partnerships with local and state government to develop a language/culture component of the local Indigenous park rangers training program – which will hopefully lead to a tourism component as well. Keep an eye out for that next time you are passing through. There are also plans for a Master-Apprentice style program in the future. Very exciting times in Kununurra.
As well as “Show and tell” from the language centres, the language team from AIATSIS filled us in on their acronym-laden activities, AUSTLANG and OLCAP, and strategic plan for the next 10 years. Some people had in fact already used the AUSTLANG database and confirmed what a useful resource it is, and has the potential to be as more data is added. And of course everyone wants OLCAP to come to their region next! Rachel Hendery represented the AustKin project from ANU et al, and received lots of good feedback about developing the project to be even more useful for language groups. These presentations highlighted how useful the State conference can be for regional centres to stay in touch with important projects around the country.
It was also a great treat to have a Sydney company called CuriousWorks come and present ideas for how new media technology might be incorporated into our daily language work: Flickr for a visual wordlist, Youtube for swapping short films made with mobile phones (or check out the much-coveted flip camera www.theflip.com). I am sure many of us left the conference eager to blog, snap and upload the world around us for others to share.
It wasn’t all showing off, however. There were several workshops where we discussed the feasibility of an extra layer of representation and coordination for language centres to help share information amongst ourselves and to lobby government. We also had a look at how language centres have evolved over the past 20 years by taking a ‘mini-audit’ of the current range of activities we perform. While we’ve evolved it seems our funding arrangements haven’t – it was surprising to note that our funding stream has always been funded at only 50% of the amount requested by applications. Delegates also took a few moments to send a letter in support of the recent efforts to bring a National Indigenous Languages Policy onto the agenda of the federal government.
All in all it was great to see how language centres continue to innovate, despite existing, as one delegate put it, on the whiff of a smell of an oily rag. It was personally inspiring to be with people that will just not be stopped, and are so positive and sharing, even in the hardest times.