HCR’s Western Australia (WA) based team, Dane Waters, and Celeste Larkins, have been working on a project to record and preserve local Aboriginal language in the Mid West Gascoyne area. The project is led by Bundiyarra Irra Wangga Language Centre whose mission as an organisation is to preserve, revitalise, and maintain Aboriginal languages and culture. Areas of focus for this particular project include: Mount Magnet; Denham; Carnarvon; and Northampton. Project officer, Celeste, gives an insight into her experience working on this project.
Australians tend to be in awe of places such as Europe, where there are clusters of countries so close to one another, with each having its own distinct language. Even more so in awe, that most children born in a European country are raised bi-lingual, with some speaking three to four languages, depending on neighbouring countries.
However, with Australia so isolated from other countries, languages other than English are something many of us are glad to be rid of after Year 8, when it is no longer a compulsory subject. And when asked by international travellers, are there any other languages in Australia? The response is generally a “no, just English”.
I was one of those people, completely unaware of how many languages there are in Australia and are still fluently spoken. It wasn’t until working with HCR, that I soon found out that traditional Aboriginal languages still exist, especially further north, where for some, English is a second or third language.
On a recent visit to Mount Magnet, I was privileged to meet Uncle Ollie George, a Badimaya Elder who is one of the last remaining fluent speakers of Badimaya. The Bundiyarra Irra Wangga Language Centre has highlighted Badimaya as a priority language to preserve, because of the small amount of speakers left. Sadly, many Elders we spoke with never got the opportunity to learn their language due to government policies that either meant they grew up on missions, or were punished if they spoke their language at school, and in public.
However, it is people in the community, such as Uncle Ollie, who are passionate about ensuring language and stories of language are recorded for future generations to remain connected to their Country and culture.
Uncle Ollie shared with us a part of his incredible life story of hardship, lessons learnt, and resilience. He was raised by his nanna and grandpop on Kirkalocka Station, 60kms south of Mount Magnet. At the age of 12, he went to work on Thundelarra Station, 70kms south-east of Yalgoo, where he worked hard for every penny mustering sheep from 5am in the morning, till 11pm at night. Uncle Ollie describes how there were no motorcars then, so he would muster riding a horse, and to move camp would use horse and cart. He reminisces how Badimaya was always on his mind, and at the age of 15 went back to Kirkalocka Station to again stay with his nanna and pop. He thought it was a wonderful thing being able to speak Badimaya, because he was home. When asked what language means to him, Uncle Ollie expressed how it means so much to him to have been taught by the true old Badimaya people.
Uncle Ollie has helped to broaden my perspective of language in Australia, and the cultural importance it has for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. From now on when people ask about languages in Australia, I will definitely be sharing how much diversity there actually is, with some Aboriginal people speaking multiple traditional languages, as well as English.
Please have a listen to the audio of Dane and Uncle Ollie yarning. Towards the end, Uncle Ollie speaks in Badimaya and says “I’m happy for you people to be listening to me talking about my Badimaya”.