Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages are fundamental to the identities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and in recent years there has been an increased public interest in these languages. Unfortunately, for some languages, it’s too late; many have declined to a critical state. More than three quarters of Indigenous Australian languages are no longer spoken every day, with others remaining under threat.
With Paul Paton, Mandy Nicholson, Joel Wright, and Gregory Phillips, we explore the shape of Aboriginal languages in Australia today, with a special focus on Victoria. How do you reawaken a language in a contemporary context? What are the challenges for traditional owner groups in relearning their languages? Can – and should – the general public learn a local Aboriginal language? And how do we empower traditional owner groups through their languages?
Paul Paton is an Aboriginal man from the Gunnai and Monaro tribes of southeastern Australia and is the Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages. VACL is very strong in developing and producing new resources for community programs, training in linguistics and is involved with Government departments in the Victoria towards the development of language policy and curriculum.
Paul is also highly experienced and skilled in liaising, setting up, running and participating in committees, Advisory Boards and Reference Groups for various functions. Paul has extensive Aboriginal community networks around many areas in Victoria and has a very good understanding of the issues that face communities in reviving of their local languages.
Mandy is a member of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of Melbourne and surrounds and currently lives in the South Eastern Suburbs. Mandy is a recognised artist, qualified Archaeologist and leader of the Djirri Djirri Dance Group. Mandy has been working at the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages since 2012 supporting language projects, school programs and communities in the revival of their languages.
A Gunditjmara man from south western Victoria, Joel Wright has worked predominately in Aboriginal Affairs for over 35 years. Joel is currently the co-ordinator of the Laka Gunditj Language program which services Aboriginal language groups in south west Victoria. He has recently launched six bilingual interactive apps of Gunditjmara creation stories, is delivering teacher training in Aboriginal Language studies in two council regions and has established broad community support for reinstating Aboriginal names of significant places in the region. A longstanding member of VACL, he was elected as a director to the VACL Board late last year.
Gregory Phillips is from the Waanyi and Jaru peoples, and comes from Cloncurry and Mount Isa. He is a medical anthropologist, has a PhD in psychology and a research master’s degree in medical science, and his thesis, Addictions and Healing in Aboriginal Country, was published as a book in 2003.