Archive for the ‘Indigenous Australia News’ Category.

7th European Australianist workshop

Candide Simard (ELAP) is organising the 7th European Australianists workshop 2012 which will be held at SOAS on 3-4 April.

The purpose of the workshop is to provide a venue for the presentation and discussion on current research on Australian languages. As in previous workshops a theme is suggested: ‘Contact phenomena in Australian languages’. However, participants are free to present papers not related to this theme, and contributions relating to any aspect of Australian languages, from any perspective are welcome

Confirmed speakers are:

Eva Schultze-Berndt, University of Manchester
William McGregor, University of Aarhus
Peter Austin, SOAS

Pre-registration for the workshop is required and can be done by secure credit card payment here.

Earlier workshops were held in Machester in 2008 and Nijmegen in 2007.

Hopes and dreams

On Thursday I had an interesting time in a sleek-looking conference room at Parliament House with the House of Representatives Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities. The terms of inquiry cover learning English and learning Indigenous languages. Lots of people have put lots of time and thought into their submissions and appearances (available online). They are a fascinating snapshot of current concerns, hopes and dreams. (A couple contain not-so-subtle touting – gimme a gazillion and I’ll solve literacy/attendance/savethelanguage, but they’re the exception).

So I was answering questions about my submission [.pdf] on language learning in Indigenous communities. Here goes with points that I wanted to make, and then what I remember of questions asked by the Committee:
Continue reading ‘Hopes and dreams’ »

Yan-nhaŋu in the National Year of Reading

What a good decision in today’s Australia Day honours to make Laurie Baymarrwangga Senior Australian of the Year 2012! Read Claire Bowern’s post for an appreciation of her and her work documenting the Yan-nhaŋu language and getting it written down. She sounds a delightful person.

2012 is also National Year of Reading. Everyone with a reading-scheme in their revolver will be lobbying the government for funds to smelt and fire their silver bullets. Will the glitter of silver blind officials to the evidence as to whether they can hit the target?

How about for a change we read Yan-nhaŋu, Warlpiri, Enindilyakwa, Arabic, Vietnamese…? And for an even greater change, fund the production of reading material and decent language enrichment programs in these languages? Which brings me to a quibble about the description of Ms Baymarrwangga’s achievements:

Speaking no English, with no access to funding, resources or expertise, she initiated the Yan-nhangu dictionary project. Her cultural maintenance projects include the Crocodile Islands Rangers, a junior rangers group and an online Yan-nhangu dictionary for school children.

‘initiate’ is a slippery word, which then slithered into the ABC report as’establishment’.

Another is her establishment of the Yan-nhangu dictionary project, without any funding, resources, expertise or the ability to speak English.

This is a dangerous inaccuracy. Others were involved in the Yan-nhaŋu dictionary work who had access to resources. Ignoring their contribution lets governments off the hook. They want us to believe that love is all you need to maintain a language and create an online dictionary for it. Not schools, not interpreters or translators, not curricula or interesting stuff to read, not web-hosting or software, not linguists or programmers, nothing that needs paying for. Certainly nothing that would cost as much as some of the silver bullet reading-schemes.

Buttering parsnips in the Year of the Dragon

Three things to think about/do..

1. Creeping towards constitutional recognition
Section 127A Recognition of languages
The national language of the Commonwealth of Australia is English.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are the original Australian languages, a part of our national heritage

This is what was proposed in a report on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution (You Me Unity. The report authors seem to think that many people will vote for this because they are worried about the loss of Indigenus languages. The national language bit is supposed to soften the doubters into accepting Indigenous languages.

And as well, the report authors want to add:

Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

Q. What is respect? A. Respect = Fine Words

Evidence from the report: “However, a separate languages provision would provide an important declaratory statement in relation to the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. The Panel understands that a declaratory provision would be ‘technically and legally sound’, and would not give rise to implied rights or obligations that could lead to unintended consequences.”

Q. What are unintended consequences? A. = making Governments pay for decent education, translators, interpreters etc

Evidence from the report: “In relation to the second sentence of the first paragraph of the proposed ‘section 127B’, consultations with lawyers and State government officials indicated that an ‘opportunity’ to learn, speak and write English could give rise to legal proceedings challenging the adequacy of literacy learning. Similarly, the last paragraph in the proposal about recognising a ‘freedom’ to speak, maintain and transmit languages of choice could lead to argument about the right to deal with government in languages other than English. Such expressions would raise potentially contentious issues for all levels of government. The Panel has concluded that the potential unpredictable legal risks associated with these two sentences are such that they would not be appropriate for inclusion as part of a proposed constitutional amendment.”

Intended consequence: the language parsnips are not going to get buttered.

As a side-point, information distributed by the YouMeUnity mob [thanks Bruce!], include YouTube audios of a whole lot of translations into Indigenous languages and creoles of information attributed to Alison Page, a Panel Member, but read by language speakers:

“15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, namely Guringdji , Murrinh-Patha, Anindiyakwa , Arrernte, Kimberley Kriol, Pitjantjatjara, Wik Mungan , TSI Kriol, Warramangu , Walpirri , Yolngu, Kriol, Tiwi, Alywarra and Kunwinjku”.

The awful spellings of names of Indigenous languages in the report shows how little butter the parsnips are getting.

2. New resources
– From Claire Bowern
Claire has posted a call for material for the Australian part of ‘ElCat’, a new catalogue of endangered languages that will be launched (late February). She’s calling for links to sites about language programs [photos, videos, links to you-tube channels too!], “or if you’d like to include something about your language and what it means to you”. Hop over to Anggarrgoon to read the call and add your bit.

2. What I wish I could hop over to

– From Candide Simard
7th European Australianists workshop 2012
3-4 April 2012
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London

The European Australianists are happy to announce their seventh workshop to be held at SOAS, University of London, on 3-4 April 2012. The purpose of the workshop is to provide a venue for the presentation and discussion on current research on Australian languages. As in previous workshops a theme is suggested: “Contact phenomena in Australian languages”. However, participants are free to present papers not related to this theme, we welcome contributions relating to any aspect of Australian languages, from any perspective.

Policy playtime

First there was (and still is, if you move quickly) the Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities being held by the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, discussed here.

Then came the National Cultural Policy. This shouldn’t just be for visual and performing artists. It includes Cultural heritage of which they say:

In parallel with core arts and creative industries there will be a strong recognition of Australia’s cultural heritage, and in particular, Australia’s Indigenous culture which is the oldest living culture in the world. Australia’s Indigenous culture is unique, and comprises both dynamic, living systems and expressions which must be supported to develop, and endangered systems and expressions which must be protected and where possible, revived.

And now today, what the NT Government has decided to do about Indigenous languages in schools. They commissioned a report from the Menzies School of Health Research [pdf 2.6 mb].1 The report deserves a serious reading and analysis. All I can say for the moment is that it doesn’t seem to distinguish clearly between programs in communities where the dominant language is the target language, and those in communities where it is not (as in many remote Indigenous communities). The initial conclusion seems to be that while mother tongue medium instruction may be good, well wouldn’t you know it, there aren’t the resources to run decent bilingual education programs in the NT schools (silence over how & why the resources were run down). What’s the answer? You guessed it, those communities can’t have bilingual education programs.

In communities where these circumstances do not prevail, the literature suggests that ‘English as a Second Language (ESL) strategies’ are the best approach to achieve improvement in student educational and language outcomes and to support community retention of Indigenous languages and culture – providing that they are delivered within a culturally responsive framework.

This may not have been the intention of the authors, but this is what the NT Government has made of it.

What ‘culturally responsive’ means to the Menzies researchers may be different from what it means to the NT Government. Their new ‘culturally responsive’ policy is “first four hours in English” in a frilly black, red and yellow skirt.

Frill No.1 The Department of Education and Training values home language and culture and will support communities in this endeavour through the use of school facilities after hours for cultural and language activities.
Somehow or other this is supposed to be part of EAL programs that are “inclusive of the students’ language and culture”
Newspeak: inclusive = exclusive

Frill No.2 Home language may be used to support quality teaching, including introducing concepts, across all year levels, particularly in the early years.
No mention of how they will ensure that Indigenous teachers have the support they need to explain the “quality teaching” – just that the schools need to “recruit and develop staff”.
Newspeak: quality teaching = all teaching?

Frill No.3 Oh, and you can seek special special approval from the Director of School Performance for in-school language activities (code for biliteracy, but it could be ANY language activity).
BUT the Director of School Performance can only approve it if the community can show that the School will jump through many many hoops:

  • committed support from the community for this instructional approach in the initial years of school education.
  • there is a sufficient number of instructionally and culturally competent staff to properly implement the approach
  • the school‘s ethos and learning programs aim to promote positive and active representation of children‘s (and families‘) first language and cultural heritage.
  • suitably adaptable and culturally responsive curriculum, teaching and learning resource materials are available or could be produced at reasonable cost.

You achieve this? Wait….

  • the school leadership team is committed and able to take a proactive role in engaging community and family resources to support the approach.
  • there is a commitment to professional support of the approach to the specific community/school.

A let-out for any principal who doesn’t want a bilingual program.

You wanna comment on this? They don’t want to hear from anyone except schools and their communities. But you could try anyway. And you could tell the Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities.

[ Update; I’ve just been alerted to [ Thanks Mary!] some highly relevant Garma Forum material on the Indigenous Stock Exchange. Quite a different take.

Jose Ramos Horta Address to Garma

Dhalulu Stubbs, The Importance of Family and Education

Wali Wunungmurra, The Disappointing Level of Support for Contemporary Yolngnu Education

Banbapuy Ganambarr, A Short History of Yolngu Education

Mick Gooda, The Importance of Rights

Galarrwuy Yunupingu: How Little Children Learn

Mp4 Highlights of the First Day of Garma

Jenny Macklin’s Opening Speech to Garma 2011]


  1. Oddly, the report doesn’t give the credentials of the authors; those that are googlable are not obviously experienced in primary education, in the study of languages or in applied linguistics.

Submit today!

Regarding the Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities being held by the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs: we would like to strongly encourage you all to make a submission to the Inquiry, and to reach out to communities, Indigenous organisations, educational institutions and any other relevant people and organisations.

Submissions are due by this Friday, 19 August. However, the Secretariat is open to giving extensions for submissions. If you need to make a late submission, or are concerned or need more information, you can contact the Secretariat by telephone on (02) 6277 4559 or by email.

Jane Simpson (ANU) has created a proforma of useful topics to include in a submission to the Inquiry. You can download the proforma from the RNLD web site here or read the details below.

23/8/2011: UPDATE from Jane Simpson Please draw on these points if they are helpful, but do include the details of your own situation, or concerns that you are familiar with. That’s more useful to the Committee.

Continue reading ‘Submit today!’ »

Maybe Faust got it right?

‘Lost indigenous languages to be revived’ is the news from the State Library of NSW: “The Library has entered into an exciting new collaboration with Rio Tinto to help revive and preserve critically endangered Indigenous languages and word lists that are embedded in historical documents held by the Library.” It quotes the NSW Arts Minister George Souris as saying, “A nation’s oral and written language is the backbone to its culture.” So why doesn’t the NSW government fund more Indigenous language work and why is Rio Tinto the hero here? This raises an important issue for us in our efforts to raise funds for language projects. It is an age-old question: how much do we provide a smokescreen of civility for companies like Rio Tinto when we accept their funds? Continue reading ‘Maybe Faust got it right?’ »

NRPIPA Symposium in Darwin 13-14 August 2011

Another stunning array of papers and associated performances will feature at the 10th Annual Symposium of NRPIPA (The National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia). This year there will be a focus on community databases for access to recordings.
Venue: North Australian Research Unit, The Australian National University, Darwin, 13–14 August 2011
Presented in association with:
The University of Sydney, ‘Intercultural Inquiry in a Transnational Context: Exploring the Legacy of the 1948 American–Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land’ (an Australian Research Council Discovery Project, hosted at PARADISEC, University of Sydney)
and The Australian National University’s School of Music, College of Arts & Social Sciences


Saturday 13 AUGUST 2011
9.30–10.30 Joe Gumbula and Martin Thomas ‘Ceremonial Responses to the Repatriation of Human Remains from Arnhem Land’
10.30–11.00 Amanda Harris ‘The Nutritionist and Her Chaperone: The American– Australian Expedition’s Fish Creek Camp in Arnhem Land’
11.30–12.30 Archie Brown, David Manmurulu, Charlie Mangulda, Bruce Birch and Linda Barwick ‘Welcoming the Upcoming Generations in Western Arnhem through Song’
12.30–1.00 Anthony Linden Jones ‘“You Couldn’t Take it Down in Our Scale”: Traditional Song and the Musical Score to CP Mountford’s Documentary Films’
2.00-2.30 Peter Williams ‘The Wollombi Corroboree’
2.30-3.00 Helen Rrikawuku Yunupiŋu ‘Milkarri Wäŋa-Ŋarakaŋur: Keening on Country’
3.00-3.30 Cathy Hilder, Anja Tait, Kate King and Tony Gray ‘Recording Stories: Revitalising and Maintaining Indigenous Languages in the Northern Territory Library’
4.00–4.30 Samuel Curkpatrick ‘Grooving with the Ancestors: Wägilak Song and the Australian Art Orchestra’
4.30–5.30 Aaron Corn ‘Nations of Song’

Sunday 14 August
9.00–9.30 Myfany Turpin ‘Text Setting in Warlpiri Yawulyu’
9.30–10.00 Nicholas Kirlew ‘Community Stories: The New Version of the Successful Ara Iritija Software’
10.00–10.30 Linda Barwick, Joe Blythe and John Mansfield ‘The Wadeye Song Database’
11.00–12.00 Genevieve Campbell Teresita Puruntatameri and the Wangatunga Strong Women ‘Ngariwanajirri — The Strong Kids Song’
12.00–1.00 Joe Blythe ‘From Malgarrin to Metallica: A Rockumentary History of Wadeye Music’
2.00–3.00 Matthew Martin, Pansy Nulgit, Sherika Nulgit and Sally Treloyn ‘Moving People and Places: The Sustaining Junba Project’
3.00–3.30 Allan Marett ‘It’s Not Just about Preserving Music and Dance: It’s Something Much Bigger’
4.00–5.00 Roundtable discussion on ‘Community Databases: Access, Training, Management’

Happy IDWIP!! 29 years on

I nearly missed this [thanks Bruce!]

Mick Gooda, the Social Justice Commissioner celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – the birthday cake theme this year being ‘Indigenous designs: celebrating stories and cultures, crafting our own future’

His press release notes that International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

Iwantja Band launch ‘Palya’

Around the remoter parts of Australia there’s a ferment of contemporary music and Australian languages. I had a taste of this a week ago in Tennant Creek, where I learnt of a freshly released album from Iwantja Band, now on their launch journey (Iwantja Band launch Palya).

cover art for 'Palya'

Cover art for 'Palya'

I caught some of the enthusiasm from Patrick McCloskey, a freelance music producer working with the Winanjjikari Music Centre1 at Tennant Creek.

Most of the songs on the album (eg Kungka Nyuntu, Wamanguru) are in Pitjantjatjara / Yankunytjatjara, languages spoken at Iwantja (perhaps better known as Indulkana), some 900km south of Tennant Creek. It suited the band to use a studio not in a city, or in intermediate Alice Springs, but at Winanjjikari in Tennant Creek. And there is more to the mix, as the band’s manager says in an interview:

Continue reading ‘Iwantja Band launch ‘Palya’’ »


  1. The name is Warumungu, wina-njji-kari ‘sing-Nom-Genitive’; see also WMC’s blog