Our Mother Tongue Woiwurrung

Our Culture

Added by First Languages Australia

Description One day, right before her 14th birthday, Joy Wandin Murphy woke up with a bad feeling. She refused to go to school. She had an unshakeable sense of dread that something was going to happen to her father. Joy was eventually permitted to stay home, and her father passed away that same day.

It was a turning point for Joy. In that moment, she knew with absolute clarity that they had lost a great man and that to honour him, she had to give back somehow to her community. ‘From there it was indelibly printed that I had to do something, but at that point, I wasn’t sure exactly, what’, she recalls.

Joy Wandin Murphy is a Wurundjeri elder and Woiwurrung language teacher, based in Healesville, 60km east of Melbourne. Joy's great-great uncle was William Barak, the last traditional ngurungaeta (elder/leader) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan. Joy’s father, Jarlo Wandoon, attempted to enlist for World War 1 but was rejected on account of being Aboriginal. He proceeded to re-enlist under a whitefella name, James Wandin, and went on to serve overseas.

It’s with this same tenacity that Aunty Joy has applied herself to her work. She is committed to promoting positive relationships between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community, and to strengthening the Woiwurrung language. Joy frequently gives the traditional ‘Welcome to country’ greeting at Melbourne events and was invited to be the creative artist and lyricist for the Opening and Closing ceremony songs in the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Among other accolades, Joy was made an officer of the Order of Australia in 2006, for her service to the community, particularly the Aborigines, through ‘significant contributions in the fields of social justice, land rights, equal opportunity, art and reconciliation’.

Joy currently teaches the Woiwurrung language to Year 7 and 8 students at Healesville High school and mentors her sister, Doreen, who also teaches language and culture at the school. It’s a pilot program funded by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. It will be supported until the end of the year. Beyond that, Joy is determined to find the funds to keep the program going.

Joy was taught the Woiwurrung language by her aunt and uncle, the older siblings of her father. 'Uncle Frank spent a lot of time with us and although he was a very quiet man, he would say a word, and it would just penetrate. You just never forgot what he said and how he said it,' she recalls. Joy knew that most of her generation had totally missed out on language, and she felt a responsibility to pass it on to the next generation.

‘It’s a very proud moment when you’re able to teach not just Wurundjeri children, but also non-Aboriginal children, because we are about educating everyone. And if we share the knowledge that’s been handed down over all those years, then we hope that can bring a much more harmonious community.’

This film is part of the ‘Mother Tongue’ language series, documenting Indigenous languages around Victoria. Click here to view the first film of the series, on the Wiradjuri language.

ABC Open Producer: Suzi Taylor

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.

Add to Playlists
More information/Comments