by Lorda Omeisah
In a history-making move, the ABC in collaboration with First Languages Australia has developed a project to broadcast greetings in local languages across Australia. “I think it’s incredibly powerful. It’s just a simple, sneaky little project but I just think the impact is huge,” says Faith Baisden, coordinator of First Languages Australia, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting local Indigenous languages. The ABC operates in 50 regions in Australia but within each of those regions, there are numerous local language groups. Listeners around the country will be able to hear greetings in their first languages.
“It’s historic to think that the ABC is acknowledging, probably on a daily basis now, our connection to these ancient languages and the importance that these languages have for the whole population,” Faith Baisden says. Local languages connect people to country because of the strong sense of place embodied in them. “For instance, here in our area, we have ‘Coomera’. The word comes from ‘kumar’, which means blood or veins and that describes the way the waterways break up and flow across that flat land,” says Faith Baisden.
For Indigenous Australians, connection to local languages and culture is critical for a strong sense of identity and wellbeing, according to the most recent Indigenous Languages Survey released by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (IATSIS).
“You go out to Kununurra in Western Australia and that’s a remote place, but they’re battling. You’ve got full blood people who don’t speak their language,” says traditional language expert Daryn McKenny.
The recent Indigenous Languages Survey reported that all traditional languages are at risk of declining and that from 250 traditional languages before European settlement, there are just 20 languages of any strength today.
Daryn McKenny says there are still problems with the education system from the past and that the Government’s provision for Indigenous languages to be part of the national curriculum in all schools this year is a step in the right direction, but he warns there are many hurdles to achieving this vision.
Faith Baisden says that First Languages Australia has been part of these talks regarding the national curriculum but they are still waiting on an update from the new government. Recommendations around community consultation, the lack of suitably qualified teachers and the lack of resources have not been addressed. “It’s all very well to talk about introducing curriculum but who’s going to provide the resources?” she says.
Meanwhile, the ABC is leading the way, putting the taxpayer’s dollar to work, connecting people around the country. “It’s really showing how the ABC works directly back for all members of the community,” says Faith Baisden.