Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2017 Finalist Entries

What Matters? Finalists 2017

2017 What Matters? NSW/ACT Year 7/8 Winner


Our Language Matters

Nikki Parsons

St Joseph Regional College, Port Macquarie

When the Europeans invaded NSW Australia, Indigenous men, women and children were put into missions and weren’t allowed to speak in their native tongue. Many languages were lost because of this. Although 35 native NSW languages are spoken and being taught to this day, most of them have not been revived perfectly and can’t be spoken fluently.

Many years ago, some people had the idea to record and study languages that were being lost. They did this by speaking to elders who could still remember most of their language. The Gathang language recordings that Uncle Eddie Lobban and Nils Holmer made are the main source of information about our language and are the only sound recordings to have been found. Mr Holmer recorded Uncle Eddie Lobban at the Purfleet Aboriginal Mission. These recordings are very valuable as they not only record the language; they also are of cultural stories and historical events.

Indigenous languages weren’t just used for communication, as the languages were also used spiritually and to pass down knowledge. As Indigenous people did not use writings of their languages, all language was only spoken and the language used in song and dance to pass on knowledge and history to younger generations. As a result, our language is an extremely important part of our culture.

In recent times, groups of Indigenous people decided to try to revive our lost languages. With help from linguists, and many of our elders, they could get a lot of our language back together. They then made a dictionary and started classes to teach people the native tongue of their land. Most NSW Indigenous languages are being taught to this day, but we can always do more to try and bring the languages back through generations to come.

To try and restore the Gathang language, my parents have both taken a course to learn the language again and they have passed it down to me and my siblings. My mother works as an Indigenous teacher’s aide and she teaches the Indigenous children about their culture and teaches them the Gathang language. My father does Welcome to Countries at high schools and primary/public schools. I have even been lucky enough to learn some of the language and translate to English when my father does the Welcome to Country.

It makes me extremely sad to think that many other Indigenous families haven’t been given the right to learn their native language. That’s why learning Our Language is what matters to me.

Marrungbu gapu (thank you and good-bye).

Jenna Beck