Bundjalung language detectives

Our Culture

Added by First Languages Australia

Description Bianca Monaghan and Dean Loadsman were born into the first generation of Wahlabul people to grow up with the freedom to practice their traditional language and culture, without being discouraged or punished.

They have a vision to give the next generation the gift of fluency in their mother tongue.

However, to do that, they first have to overcome a few major challenges. Neither Ms Monaghan or Mr Loadsman are fluent speakers of their mother tongue.

Traditionally it is not a written language, which means there are no textbooks.

And history is against them.

The colonial invasion in the early 1800s had a huge impact on the loss of language and culture for the Aboriginal clans of Australia's east coast.

Many communities were rounded up into missions with non-Indigenous managers. The goal was assimilation with white Australia.

The practice of language and culture was often prohibited and could be punished with imprisonment, but surprisingly some Aboriginal languages are not as dead as we are often led to believe.

Despite the harsh treatment in the missions, there are communities where people defied authorities and kept their language alive.

Some of those communities are in the Baryulgil, Tabulam and Woodonbong areas, remote regions of the NSW North Coast. These are the homelands of the Wahlabul and Gidhabul clans.

Language was still in regular use in the 1960s and even today, there are a few elders who are fluent speakers.

From the late 1800s through to the late 1900s, a number of linguists produced dictionaries recording some of the vocabulary of local dialects which they grouped under a region name of Bundjalung.

Ms Monaghan and Mr Loadsman are now studying these dictionaries and seeking out their elders, to sit at their feet and learn as much as they can.

Their vision is to become fluent and teach the next generation to be proud to practice their culture and speak their language.

A big thanks to the children of Baryulgil Public School who let us document their weekly lesson with Balun Budjarahm Cultural Experience.

ABC Open Producer: Catherine Marciniak
Photographer: Greg Barton

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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