Indigenous Studies Students Speak the Language of Cultural Revival

17 January 2012

Students from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences recently undertook a field trip to Nambucca Heads, Macksville and Bowraville as part of the University of Sydney's Indigenous Australian Studies program.

The trip, which focussed on such language revival centres as the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative in Nambucca Heads, allowed students to experience the social and cultural environments of diverse Indigenous communities.

This included sitting in on lessons in local high schools and primary schools, and participating in playgroup sessions at various pre-schools.

A number of local school groups were similarly out on field trips at the time, giving the University students the opportunity to participate in Indigenous language classes themselves.

While groups such as Muurrbay continue to encourage the revival of Indigenous languages, particularly Gumbaynggirr, in communities, the students observed that the initiative had its limitations.

These include a lack of sufficient funding for teachers and teaching resources between schools, and the fact that many parents are not fluent in Indigenous dialects, and therefore cannot aid their children's learning outside of the classroom.

However, such problems do not detract from the overall mission of language revival programs, which seek to reclaim a sense of ethnic identity and self-respect through language, rather than an actual return to large native-speaking Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Australian Studies lecturer John Hobson, who led the field trip to Nambucca Heads, saw the experience as crucial to students' understanding of the cultural perspectives and issues conveyed in the course.

'Towards the end of the excursion a number of our students sidled up to us and made comments to the effect of, "I think I get it now!', said Mr Hobson.

'As a consequence, several have asked how they can undertake further study or research in the field, and become directly involved'.

The field trip rounded out a successful year for Indigenous Australian Studies at the University, which was recently expanded to include a brand new Honours course.

Indigenous Australian Studies, hosted by the Koori Centre, will also be offering field trips to both Alice Springs and Uluru as part of its unit of study First People: Last Contact in 2012, which John Hobson explains 'is premised on the unique contact history experienced by the people of Central Australia that commenced almost a century after the southern half of the continent was conquered.'

'Many desert people can still recall their first sight of whitefellas and cars, remember the rocket tests at Woomera and atomic explosions of Maralinga, or have family stories of the last recorded massacres and the European 'discovery' of 'lost tribes' of their relatives.'

Mr Hobson, who previously spent ten years working with Aboriginal languages in Central Australia, believes it is important for students 'to experience the vibrant Indigenous tourism, art and media industries of Central Australia and to allow them to develop an insight into the relationships of people and their cultures to the land'.

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Contact: Kate Mayor

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