Reviving Aboriginal language of south coast elders

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Added by First Languages Australia

Description Since the beginning of 2017, Aboriginal students at Eden Public School, on the far south coast of New South Wales, have been learning the language of their elders.

It is the culmination of a painstaking language revitalisation project that began more than 10 years ago.

In 2006, Ossie and Beryl Cruse, Shirley Aldridge and Liddy Stewart, together with project coordinator Sue Norman, began meeting with elders along the south coast to record interviews and find out how much language was still spoken.

For the next four years, they travelled the coast from Bomaderry to Eden, interviewing 37 elders and capturing over 1,000 words, supplemented by recordings made with various elders in the 1960s.

They built a database of words using the Miromaa database, developed in Australia for communities working to revitalise their traditional languages.

Another two years were spent building an audio dictionary, selecting words and verifying their pronunciation and spelling in consultation with the community in Eden.

Flash cards, games, songs help teach language
The group then developed resources to teach the language – from flash cards and games, to a workbook and a song.

They have been teaching students at Eden Public School since the beginning of this year. One of the first class exercises was for students and teachers to give themselves a name in language.

The traditional languages of the far south coast are Dhurga from Wandandean to Wallaga Lake, Djiringanj from Wallaga Lake to Merimbula, and Thawa southwards from Merimbula.

Uncle Ossie Cruse said the group wanted to revitalise a common language that was used from Eden to La Perouse.

The Eden Aboriginal community is a resettlement community – south coast tribes were heavily impacted by colonisation, and people travelled up and down the coast for agricultural work, so for many speakers, the traditional languages have become mixed.

But even before colonisation, a trade language would have been shared by the different tribes of the south coast, and this is what the language group has tried to capture.

Emotional experience for elders involved
In May 2017, elders from the language group visited the original interviewees and their families in Cobargo, Wallaga Lake, Ulladulla, Nowra, Bomaderry, Sanctuary Point, and Wreck Bay to give them a copy of their recordings, and the audio dictionary and workbook they contributed to.

Uncle Ossie Cruse said it was an emotional experience, especially as some of the elders who shared their knowledge had now passed away.

This story was filmed over 12 months at the Monaroo-Bobberer-Gudu Keeping Place at Jigamy, Eden High School and Eden Public School. The project was made possible by the Our Languages Our Way program of NSW Aboriginal Affairs. Many thanks to the community for allowing this project to be captured by the ABC.

ABC Open Producer: Vanessa Milton

This video was originally contributed to the ABC Open Mother Tongue project, which invited Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to share a story about their mother tongue.

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