NSW Aboriginal Languages Week 2023

NSW Aboriginal Languages Week is a time to celebrate and honour Aboriginal Languages and their past, present and future. During Week 3, Term 4, NSW public schools and early childhood education centres will shine a spotlight on various Aboriginal Languages across NSW and come together to reawaken, grow and nurture Aboriginal Language and Culture through learning

2023 Theme: ‘Languages Alive, Culture Thrives’

Aboriginal Languages are part of the cultural heritage of New South Wales and Aboriginal people are the custodians of these languages and have the right to control their growth and nurturing (Aboriginal Languages Act 2017).

This year’s theme ‘Languages Alive, Culture Thrives’ highlights the importance of revitalising and reclaiming Aboriginal Languages, and ensuring they are maintained for future generations. Aboriginal Languages are embedded with knowledge about culture and place, playing a central role in strengthening cultural identity by connecting Aboriginal people to each other, to their ancestors and to their land.

Local Aboriginal communities across NSW are currently working to reclaim, revitalise and maintain their traditional languages through the teaching and learning of Aboriginal Language and Culture in schools.

Cultural principles and protocols

When it comes to teaching and learning Aboriginal Languages and Culture, it is essential for schools to work in partnership with their local Aboriginal community, in line with their local cultural principles and protocols.

In NSW, cultural principles and protocols may differ between local Aboriginal communities. Schools should adhere to these principles and protocols when sourcing local language speakers and throughout the development and implementation of school-based learning and teaching programs to maintain and revitalise local Aboriginal language and culture.

To find out and develop more knowledge about cultural principles and protocols, schools can contact: their Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG), Aboriginal education consultants within education sectors, local Aboriginal Land Councils and/or Aboriginal language centres.

Visit the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) website to download the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander principles and protocols.

For more information read the Cultural Protocols for teaching Aboriginal Languages and Cultures fact sheet from the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultancy Group (AECG).

Day 1 video - 'Languages Alive, Culture Thrives' (21:14)

Kick off the inaugural NSW Aboriginal Languages Week 2023 with a powerful intergenerational conversation on the importance of Language revitalisation and reclamation. Join Brenda Mitchell and Temicka Lawson from Paakantji Country, and Glen Cook and Eli Cook from Bundjalung Country, as they discuss their experiences, challenges and shared passion in supporting their respective communities and schools to reawaken, grow and nurture Aboriginal Languages.

Languages Alive, Culture Thrives

Temicka Lawson

Ngayi, wita kirra kirra inahna. Yuraipina Paarkantji wiimpatjuku. Wirtu kumpakulu. Kaantinya kalypu karingki. Iki marnti Paakantji.

Hello. Look, we remember Paakantji people. Old man, old woman, yesterday, today, tomorrow, this ground, Paakantji.

I'm Temicka Lawson Williams a proud Paakantji wiimpatjunugu. I'm originally from Menindee, New South Wales but I work and live in Broken Hill. I work for the New South Wales AECG under the Paakantji Language and Culture Nest. Providing language to our local schools.

Brenda Mitchell

I'm Brenda Mitchell, I'm a Paakantji wiimpatjunugu. I'm actually the ALSCO for DOE. I work alongside of Temicka. Supporting her to develop the programs, lesson plans with language to take into the schools to teach.

Temicka Lawson

Having Aboriginal Languages Week will make the school also celebrate it outside of our Languages class. And the kids, hopefully they will see it as an opportunity to be, you know proud of their language and proud of their culture. And wanna be the teachers and share it with everyone else. And I think with everyone else supporting it and celebrating it, it will really build up our kids.

Brenda Mitchell

Yeah, I think it's a really great thing to celebrate language, have it for a whole week. Because it will show that, you know we are not just teaching the language reviving the language, just because it's there.

I think it needs to be celebrated as a whole community, whole of Australia. You know, like we have NAIDOC week. I think Language Week should be celebrated as well.

I remember growing up on the Wilcannia mission. And we grew up with a little snapshot, words of our language. When an Elder or someone would say something, you know they'd explain, teach us what that word meant. I guess for me the revitalisation of the language does mean a lot. Because we both pay a lot of homage to the Elders that have sat for years and years and years. From in the sixties, to compile and write the words down.

Because we all know that Aboriginal language was not a written language. It was all about sound, where it came from. And I think it's really important that we have language written so that the kids can learn a little bit faster, with having language.

Temicka Lawson

Paakantji language was embedded into all our learning at Menindee. And I was really lucky to have the privilege to go there and hear the language being spoken. And you know, even at home hearing the language even if it was just one word in a sentence. And you know, hearing that one word. And then when I'm getting older and I'm reading the dictionary. I'm reading something and I'm like, wow, that is an actual word. It wasn't just, you know, one of our words that we used to chuck around. It was an actual word. And I think too, you know like seeing it happening everywhere else. Not just in our communities too, and realizing, you know that all Aboriginal people aren't the same. I think growing up, I thought that we all spoke the same language. We all had the same languages and the same Dreamtime stories, and same songs. And then, yeah, when you go away, it shows.

Brenda Mitchell

I think us having our language back and learning our language, it's healing us. It's healing our people and all the things that were done. It's not gonna happen overnight and it's not gonna heal us fully, but it's a healing process for us.

I think it's really important that the barriers and the challenges be aired out in the communities when there's an opportunity like a sharing circle. And we get that opportunity to do that. You will come across some bumps in the road. But it's about keeping communication open and honest. And being transparent about the language and how we wanna teach it.

Temicka Lawson

You know, we had something really exciting in the last few weeks. We had a NESA workshop and working on the Aboriginal perspectives in all syllabuses. And you know, I've spoke about it with our Paakantji language classes. Because we do, our protocol is we only teach Aboriginal kids. It's a culturally safe place for our kids to be learning their language.

You know, whether they have prior learning or they don't know any of their language or anything about their Aboriginal Culture. It's a safe place for us to do that and teach them. And safe place for us to talk about things that they might not normally talk about in their other classes.

And I think, yeah, you know, we just build each other up. Paakantji Language was never a written thing. And how we read the word, is not how it sounds. So you have to be learning that sound system to be able to read the word properly. And I think if we're just slapping Paakantji words anywhere around the school or slapping Paakantji words on a piece of paper.

Like who's gonna be there to teach that? Or who's gonna be there to be able to read that, you know. That's gonna, if we're doing that, that will undo everything that I'm doing in the language classes

Brenda Mitchell

To remember too, you know, we always encourage the kids and tell them, 'you're not only the learners of the language. You are the teachers of the language'. Because it gives you a bit of pride. I'm so proud, because I said to Temicka, my granddaughter that, you know, I sit and listen to the recordings of the Elders speaking the language. And I said, you know, I jumped up and down with joy because we got it right. We're fluent.

Temicka Lawson

Seeing the language in the schools and when we perform. When we're doing our songs and you know, playing. And when I asked a question, like I tested the kids I told 'em like how many Aboriginal languages are in Australia. And you know that we were always a multicultural country. Before what happened, happened, but you know. And how many of those languages are speaking fluently. And then for me to test them a month later and they can tell me the answer. Like that just makes me so proud.

And it makes me so emotional, too. Like, it's emotional and I'm just so proud of the kids and how much they have grown. And I can see the difference from when they first started with language and how much their cultural identity has grown within that short amount of time. It's just, yeah, I love it.

Brenda Mitchell

Be loud and proud of your identity. Being part of this Paakantji clan, you know the river people. Because you know, like I said there's so much more to learn.

Glen Cook

My name's Glen Cook, I'm a Dunghutti Bundjalung Nyangbal man from Northeastern New South Wales. Grew up on Cabbage Tree Island as a child and moved to Ballina in the early seventies. Teacher, principal AP, for the last 32 years. Now working with the Department of Education. And as the Language and Culture advisor across the Language and Culture nest in New South Wales.

Eli Cook

And I'm Eli Cook, we say Bundjalung Goori, born of and belonging to this Country. Lived in Bundjalung Country my whole life. Very lucky to have done so. Lived all throughout Bundjalung Country, got to know people from all over this place. And yeah, now currently a teacher teaching on country as well. So

Glen Cook

To me, it's important because when I was a child we weren't allowed to speak language, we were prohibited. We would probably be punished my parents. And I think it's important to me because it was my culture, it's my parents. My parents both were different languages. Mum's Dunghutti, Dad's Bundjalung. And we learn little bits and pieces at home. But it was a little bit confusing 'cause I couldn't differentiate Dunghutti to Bundjalung. And sometimes, like I know I can speak not fluently but I know words from each language. But it's important because I think it's our history it's our life. It's a lifestyle and you know, it's part of our culture.

Eli Cook

Aboriginal Language Week, it's important because language and culture are just so intertwined with one another. You can't have one without the other. Unfortunately, when I was coming through school we weren't provided much language. But now through my career I've seen that transition somewhat. And I've had the privilege of being able to share language and teach language through my own teaching as well. So for me it's really important to acknowledge our first languages. And share those with our children, our broader community. Yeah.

Glen Cook

To me it's important because it's, as I said before it's part of our culture, our history. It's important that we retain our language because it's our language. It's unique and I think it's for our children's identity, our kids' identity, who they are, where they're from.'Cause you always need to know part of your culture is most important, is your language as well. And your culture goes hand in hand with that. So it's really important for me and I really have focused on that in all my teaching years. So over the years that I've taught I've always incorporated language and I taught all kids, not just the Aboriginal kids.

Eli Cook

Yeah. So language to me is our heritage, it's our ancestry. So for language to still be taught and shared just builds that connection to our past as well. So all of that hard work of our ancestors to maintain that our language, throughout all the trials and tribulations that they had.

Really helps us to connect to who we are, where we are from and looking forward into the future, where we're going. Yeah, so just maintaining that language, revitalizing that language and keeping strong in languages is so important to all of us. Recognising the diversity of Aboriginal people throughout the state and across Australia. A lot of people don't realize that we're not all one entity. We have different tribal groups, different clan groups.

Over 500 different clan groups across this great nation we have here, this big continent. So really understanding the diversity of our people, our language, our culture. It's not all one and the same. Yeah. We all have differences and that's all throughout our stories as well. Whilst we're connected, we've got those differences. And understanding that there's different languages is part of that as well.

Glen Cook

Yeah. And I think also the interconnection with other local languages surrounding Bundjalung is also important. Because there are similarities. Not great deal similarities, but some words are connected. And even some of the words from our west have sort of the same word, but a different meaning to us. You know, so it's important, that. And even up in North

Queensland, central Queensland they do speak, some of their language is Bundjalung. Or words that we use down here, are used there. Probably because of the interconnection. Back in the days when they did the Bunya festival up near Brisbane. I think that's how we all came together as one big crew. I think that was important. There is diversity but there's also some similarities in language as well. I sat down with one old fella from Central Desert, one day. And he sat us down and he said, "You see this big continent here?" He said, 'it's all one big spider web. And he said, we're all connected. We're all one. Even though we've got our differences, we're all connected through our stories and through our languages.

When I first started teaching in 91 there was a program called Elders in Residence. And I got two Elderly gentlemen, language speakers in Bundjalung, now Tabulam, who came in and taught language to all kids. And I think what it did, was it broke down. 'Cause if you know Tabulam, there was a- the community were very varied. There were Aboriginal community. There was the Cow Cocky community. There was the alternate people up in the hills. So they all came to school at Tabulam. And it was really a way of uniting the kids 'cause they all learn together. And it was exciting for the kids because they were sharing their language. As well as the other kids were accepting it. Because it was part of their community and country.

Eli Cook

My experience is everyone's always been really keen to get languages up and running within schools. But there's never been the time set aside for it to run properly. So that's probably one of the major constraints that I've seen in my time. A really loaded curriculum which really offers limited time for teaching language properly. And when I say properly, I mean language needs to be taught on country, on site, not in a classroom.

So our children can get that full body experience of learning what language is all about. Like we did in the past. Yeah. So it's really the school system for our language just doesn't quite nurture it enough at the moment.

Glen Cook

Look, it's unique in a sense that, you know it gets kids outta their comfort zone as well as, it also, it can be creative as well. Especially with the art as well. Language and art. I did a lot of art with my kids at school. Aboriginal art. Not just on NAIDOC week. It was, and at the end of my career I basically did a lot of perspectives in Aboriginal perspectives in HSIE and Art and other subjects as well.

I also, I think language was important 'cause I was doing teaching language in my class. The class next door was another three, four class. So in my release I'd go and teach her class a language as well. Because I thought it was important that they all learned the same time. Because it was, and they really stepped up. The kids loved it. But I think it's important that during-try and make time. I know the curriculum's pretty tough these days. But you know, I always used to put half an hour, 10-20 minutes into there, just to do a bit. Even the greetings in the morning Jigi Walla and all the kids would do the roll call. They responded. In their response. So that was all the kids in my class. And all the kids in the school did that. You know, that was part of their morning routine.

Eli Cook

Yeah. Teaching language in the classroom. It should be fun. There should be laughter, there should be movement. And there's a real sense of enjoyment when you're teaching language, particularly for our Aboriginal kids who are really feeling like they're getting something out of that. And a connection out of that. How I see it differently, you shouldn't be all bums in seats. Repeating words after the teacher. We should be sharing and moving and laughing and really enjoying ourselves. That's how it differs in my classroom.

Glen Cook

Yeah. Learning can, should be fun. Especially languages, you know. With the total physical response, activities that some teachers use these days. It's really important to make it fun and enjoyable.

Eli Cook

Looking to genuinely integrate language within other units as well. So language shouldn't really be taught in isolation. It should be taught amongst your history, amongst your geography, in order to really embed it within the classroom. So that's an area where I think schools could improve, is looking to integrate it within what we teach in our day to day. Rather than going looking for standalone language lessons to learn language. It should be part of everything that we do.

Glen Cook

Look, I feel proud of my ancestors. Cause if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have what we've got. Especially in Bundjalung country and Gamilaraay the language was preserved and retained by our Elders. And I'm very proud of that fact that, you know my forefathers did actually preserve our language and saved it for us. And which I think is important for us now to continue that journey. To impart this sort of land, the knowledge and that onto our kids and all kids.'Cause I think, you know, once the kids, it's another way of reconciliation with our kids. It's bringing 'em together, and you know they learning a common language. They're learning it together. I think it just binds the relationships with kids as well.

Eli Cook

I'd like to start by just really acknowledging those Elders and those language speakers that we have in community today who've held on to that language. And shared with me and shared with other people so that we can actually do this in our schools. 'Cause it does give us a great sense of pride within ourselves and within our culture and within them as well. And thanks, we'd like to give those people thanks for what they've done. And for me to sit there and be able to teach a student how to do an Acknowledgement of Country in full language. And then to get up on stage and perform that. It's like, it's going full circle. And yeah, it's a deep sense of pride when they can do that.

Glen Cook

Look, and let's go back to when I was at school here in Ballina Public school. It was, you know, there was nothing like language or it was all the normal, you know, English, maths, science. And what really stands out to me was the teacher. I think it was a third grade teacher. She was reading, we were doing history and she talked about the Aboriginal, Aborigines, sorry. They were savages. They were hunters and collectors. They were nomadic people. And honestly there was a few, my cousins and I were in the back of the room and every child in that room turned around and just stared at us. And she made us feel little and belittled us in front of all of these other kids. And I thought, you know, how dare you.

And then this is what makes me so passionate about language and culture in schools now. Is because, I felt culturally unsafe in that room and so did my cousins. And to see it now that the complete change, makes me so proud that the department has taken on board. Again. I agree with you Eli, with the time. It's very sparing, you know that you don't get much time to teach it. And it should be incorporated in all as part of primary lessons or even, I'll go as far as a LOTE program in primary schools. I think LOTE needs to be taught in primary schools. In particular the local Aboriginal language, if they have it.

Eli Cook

Just going off what you've said, then. People to this day still don't understand the complexity of our culture, of our language. Who we are as Aboriginal people. 60,000 is plus ongoing culture. It's not recognised how significant that is. Yeah. So for us to be able to continue that, in some way I think is just so important.

Glen Cook

It is.

Eli Cook

And it needs to continue across all of our schools through the whole country.

Glen Cook

Agree. Again, it was so- we were so marginalised as kids, you know. And not being able to speak language. And for my parents not to say it. 'Cause mum used to whisper to us. And you know, I'd say, why are you whispering mum? She goes, "Because there's white fellas next door." You know, and she had the fear of, 'cause I'm one of 11 kids. And she was scared that we'd be taken from her. And I think that was the concern that she had, and Dad.

But I think that's what I mean it makes me so proud that we are doing it and revitalizing language and culture in our communities. And that's why I think my job's really important at the moment, and we're at the cusp of something bigger, I believe. And I think this can only improve as years progress I suppose, as the years go on.

Eli Cook

And for me, look, I'm really blessed to have had generations come before me. Like my father sitting next to me. My grandparents, who've gone

through all those hard times. And for me to be sitting where I am today and doing what I'm doing today, gives me a sense of responsibility that I need to pass that on. Not only to my children, but the children who sit in my classroom and make them feel like they are something. They are important, they're valued, their culture's valued and yeah, it's really, really important.

Glen Cook


Day 2 video – Early Childhood Aboriginal Languages with Ninganah No More (5:03)

Hear from early childhood educators delivering Aboriginal Language programs in Ninganah No More Hubs across the state: Evans Head Preschool (Bandjalang Language), and Port Macquarie Community Preschool (Gathang Language) and Winanga-Li Aboriginal Child and Family Centre (Gamilaraay Language).

Early Childhood Aboriginal Languages with Ninganah No More

Kirby Barker

Hi everyone, my name is Kirby Barker. I'm the language teacher at Evans Head Preschool, and we are on Bandjalang country in the Bundjalung Nation in Northern New South Wales. I'm going to play for you a song by Aunty Wendy's Mob called "Special Land" that we've translated into Bandjalang that we sing with the children each morning at our morning meetings. ♪ Love to have a snooze ♪ ♪ In the ocean ♪ ♪ With sharp spikes ♪ ♪ Stay away, good night ♪ ♪ In the outback ♪ ♪ Crocs in river bends ♪ ♪ At the seaside ♪ ♪ Playing lots of ♪ ♪ That hoot and stare ♪ ♪ Relax without a care ♪

Loriann McKinnon

I'm going to share a book with you today in Gathang language. And this book is called "Minyaya makurr?," How Many Fish?: Wakul makurr, one fish. Bularr makurr, two fish. Bularr wakul makurr, three fish. Bularr bularr makurr, four fish. Maa makurr, five fish. Maa wakul makurr, six fish. Maa bularr makurr, seven fish. Maa bularr wakul makurr, eight fish. Maa bularr bularr makurr, nine fish. Mara-maa makurr, ten fish."


Yaama, Renee from Winanga-Li in Quirindi, and we are also in Gunnedah and all over the region. I'm here to share with you, "Happy Birthday" in language. ♪ Yaadha nhalay nginu ♪ ♪ Yaadha nhalay nginu ♪ ♪ Yaadha nhalay gaba nginda ♪ ♪ Yaadha nhalay nginu ♪ ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ Yaluu, bye, yaama, Renee from Winanga-Li, here to do "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" in language. ♪ Gawugaa, walarr dhinbirr dhina, dhinbirr dhina ♪ ♪ Gawugaa, walarr dhinbirr dhina, dhinbirr dhina ♪ ♪ Ngaya mil, ngaya bina, ngaya muru, ngaya ngaay ♪ ♪ Gawugaa, walarr dhinbirr dhina, dhinbirr dhina ♪ ♪ Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes ♪ ♪ Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes ♪ ♪ Eyes and ears and mouth and nose ♪ ♪ Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes ♪ Yaluu!

Day 3 video – Yinabildanhi fishing story in Gamiliaraay and Dunghutti Language lesson (8:19)

Listen to the Yinabildanhi fishing story about two sisters and a gugurrgaagaa (kookaburra) and learn some Gamilaraay words with Gomeroi woman, Taylor Williams. Learn and sing along with Kempsey East Public School, Caroline Bradshaw and Gloria Taylor in a Dunghutti Language lesson.

Gamiliaraay and Dunghutti Language lesson

Day 4 video – Wiradjuri Language lesson (7:22)

Learn more about the largest Aboriginal Language group in NSW by joining Brooke Ferguson, Aboriginal Language and Culture Officer, in a language lesson in Wiradjuri.

Wiradjuri Language lesson

Day 5 livestream – Gumbaynggirr Language lesson

Giinagay! Join Uncle Micklo Jarrett on Friday 27 October for a virtual Language lesson in Gumbaynggirr. Get ready to learn more about Gumbaynggirr Language and Culture through stories, song and movement.

Come along and join the fun on Friday 27 October at 9:30am - add meeting to calendar.


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