In January 2015 the president of the Pharmacy Guild George Tambassis and his PR man Greg Turnbull came onto the lands to spend 5 days with me on the lands. George and I have known each other since uni (in the same prac. group) but had not seen each other since we graduated. We caught up for the first time in nearly 30 years at an international pharmacy conference in September 2014.
The first few hours were spent in Alice Springs where the now previous CEO tried to tell him I was acting out of scope of practice for reviewing medications on the discharge summary of our patients from hospital and advising the doctor of any problems (actually best practice). This set the tone for 2015.
George and Greg travelled out the hard way in a troopie with me for 924km from Alice Springs in the January heat and spent nearly a week with me.
On their last day on the lands Greg filmed George and I having a conversation. Yes, it is a year old but the discussion is still relevant.
How many Indigenous languages exist in Australia? Who knows this shit?!
exclaimed Milly, the receptionist at an Indigenous radio station on ABC’s new program 8MMM, reading out a question on a cultural awareness training form.
Milly, the receptionist in the ABC’s new comedy series 8MMM
Indeed – who does know? As an ice-breaker, I often ask my linguistics students to name an Australian Indigenous language. Some are able to name Warlpiri, Yolngu Matha or Arrente, but most cannot manage the name of a single language. That is astonishing given there are 250 to choose from.
Yet the same students can usually name Native American languages such as Mohawk, Apache, Cherokee and Mohican, largely thanks to classic westerns.
Awareness about Australian Indigenous languages is very low. Most Australians still believe that there is an Aboriginal language and have no idea about the extent of linguistic diversity across the country.
The myth of the single Aboriginal language has allowed for filmmakers’ uncritical use of Djinpa, a Yolngu language of Arnhem Land spoken by David Gulpilil, in films based in other regions of Australia, for example The Tracker (2002) and Australia (2008).
Indigenous words in Australian English
In fact, most people in Australia know more about Indigenous languages than they realise simply because they are speakers of Australian English. One of the earliest words to be adopted by English speakers was kangaroo. The word comes from Guugu Yimidhirr, a language of north Queensland, which was first documented during James Cook’s 1770 mapping expedition.
Early drawing of a kangaroo done by Arthur Bowes Smyth in 1788. State Library of New South Wales
Australian English is dotted with words from Indigenous languages. For example, dingo, wombat and boomerang all come from languages in the Sydney area.
Many of these words hitch-hiked their way across Australia via the English-based pidgin (a simplified version of a language), which the Sydney people and the non-Indigenous colonists used to communicate with each other from 1788 onwards. The pidgin was a scaled-back version of English and later expanded to form Kriol, which is spoken across northern Australia.
A Coke can from Darwin Bob Gosford/Crikey
This pidgin also acquired new words from other languages as it spread across Australia. For example, Yagara, a language of the Brisbane region, bequeathed bung (broken) to Pidgin and ultimately Australian English.
The semantics of many of these words have changed since they were borrowed into English. A great example is the Gurindji word budju, which means vagina but is now used by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike in parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland to mean something quite different!
It was originally adopted in English to refer to a spunky woman and has since come to mean any attractive person (in fact, spunk was originally a vulgar term for semen in English).
Coke was clearly unaware of the origins of budju when it brought out a localised version of Coke cans in Darwin during its “Share a Coke” promotion.
Australian languages and visibility
It is surprising that most of us are not able to name an Australian language given that at least 40 languages are spoken on an everyday basis around the country. Some of the better-known languages are Arrente, Pitjantjatjara and Warlpiri in Central Australia, Kriol, Murrinh-patha in Wadeye, and Yolngu and Gunwinyguan languages in Arnhem Land.
Other languages are less well known but are quietly thriving such as Anindilyakwa on Groote Eylandt, Maung on Goulburn Island and Kuuk Thaayorre in Cape York.
All of these languages suffer from a lack of visibility, but some have become better known because Indigenous organisations have been increasing our awareness of them.
For example, one of the reasons that many Australians have heard of Warlpiri is due to the popularity of Bush Mechanics in the early 2000s, which was filmed in Warlpiri.
The profile of Yolngu Matha was also raised with the release of Ten Canoes in 2006. It is one of the first feature films to make extensive use of an Australian language.
The use of language in the performing arts and media has done a lot to raise the profile of Indigenous languages. Gumbayngirr, a NSW language, enjoyed a moment in the spotlight in 2009 when singer-songwriter Emma Donovan released Ngarraanga (Remember), which went on to win Donovan Best Female Artist and Best R&B Single at the 2009 BUMP Awards.
Well-known lawyer and land rights activist Noel Pearson has also done much to promote his language, Guguu Yimithirr, in political commentary.
Get to know the language of your local area
The visibility of Australian languages in public space is on the rise. In many parts of the country, signage now greets the visitor. For example, “Welcome to Ngunnawal” signs can be found at entry points into the ACT and surrounds.
Signage is powerful. In the past it was common for interpretive signage in national parks and other public spaces to display statements such as “this word is from Aboriginal”.
Probably the Australian capital that has done the most to increase awareness of their local language is Adelaide. As well as the extensive use of Kaurna place names in signage, the solar-powered buses have been called Tindo, which is the Kaurna word for sun. Nowadays it is hard to miss the fact that Adelaide is located on Kaurna country.
The State Library of Queensland and NSW also offer excellent resources and links for learning about other Indigenous languages on the east coast of Australia.
For Indigenous people wanting to reconnect with their languages or non-Indigenous language-learning enthusiasts, many universities now offer Indigenous-led language learning and awareness courses and activities. For example, Charles Darwin University provides courses in Yolngu Matha.
Pitjantjatjara can be learnt at the University of South Australia. Other languages offered through universities are Kaurna at the University of Adelaide and Gamilaraay at the University of Sydney.
It is important that we know that Australia is a nation of over 250 Australian Indigenous languages, not just one. It is also important that all Australians are able to name some of these, particularly the ones in our local areas. Increasing the visibility and awareness of Indigenous languages will help our nation understand the rich cultural pluralism that existed before the arrival of Europeans and continues today.
The Closing the Gap report was released Thursday morning. Surprise surprise there had been no real change in the indicators being looked at. The following is a reprint of an article found at theconversation.com
The latest Closing the Gap report, tabled in federal parliament on Wednesday, shows poor progress on improving the situation of Indigenous Australians on many key indicators.
Only two of the targets set in 2008 by the Council of Australian Governments are on track.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament that in many respects the report was “profoundly disappointing”, despite the concerted efforts of successive governments.
Declaring that more work was needed, Abbott also urged Aboriginal people to have high expectations for themselves and especially their children in the effort to make greater progress.
There had been some improvements in education and health outcomes, Abbott said, and “we are on track to halve the gap in year 12 attainment rates for [those] aged 20-24”.
The target to halve the gap in mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children looked achievable by 2018.
A new target of closing the school attendance gap within five years should be also achievable.
“However, the other targets – to close the gap in life expectancy within a generation; to ensure access to early childhood education for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander four-year-olds in remote areas; to halve the gap in reading and numeracy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; and to halve the gaps in employment outcomes – have either not been met or are not on track to be met.”
What had to be changed was entrenched and multigenerational disadvantage.
“This won’t happen overnight and it may not ever happen unless we continue to place high demands on ourselves of what we can achieve together.”
Outlining some success stories, Abbott said that in every community the foundations for success were education, jobs and a safer living environment, underpinned by better health. The key was the practical delivery of programs and policy.
But while government policies could be a catalyst, where success was achieved it was due to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who wanted better for themselves.
“Governments can fund and governments can urge but governments can’t change attitudes and behaviours. It’s those who make the choice to send their children to school, those who make the choice to attend school and stick to it, those who make the choice to get a job and stick to it and those who choose to abide by the law who are the ones closing the gap.
“Closing the gap is not something granted by this parliament to Indigenous Australians. Closing the gap is to be grasped by them and closing the gap starts with getting the kids to school – and it starts with expecting much of them while they are there.”
Abbott said that while most Indigenous families did make sure their children attended school regularly, “too many are still missing too much school, especially in remote areas”.
Some Coalition MPs walked out when opposition leader Bill Shorten referred to the government’s funding cuts.
Shorten told parliament the Closing the Gap framework stretched beyond the life of any government. “This is an endeavour where every opposition wants the government to succeed,” he said.
“But when a government cuts $500 million from essential services, we are compelled to point out what these cuts mean.”
Vital organisations didn’t know whether their funding would be continued or withdraw. Cuts would mean shelters for those fleeing from violence would be closed; they would rob Indigenous Australians of legal aid; preventive health programs would be hit.
Shorten appealed to the government to reverse the cuts and “seek to repair the harm”.
The Australian Council of Commerce and Industry said businesses, governments and Indigenous people must redouble efforts to improve employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians. “The private sector has a major role to play in providing sustainable employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians rather than jobs that are dependent on government programs.”