Competing Voices: The status of Indigenous languages in the French Pacific and Australia

Presented by the Embassy of France in Australia and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Network in the Office of the DVC (Indigenous Strategy and Services)


Wontok 2013 - Australian South Sea Islanders – Port Jackson

WANTOK 2013 South Sea Islander National Forum

25 May, 2015

The Pacific region boasts a third of the world’s total living languages. Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Polynesia and Australia - contain more than 2,000 living language (UNESCO). 145 of Australia’s more than 250 known Indigenous languages continue to be spoken today, despite approximately 110 being classified as severely or critically endangered. While Papua New Guinea with some 850 languages is the country with the world’s greatest language diversity. Vanuatu on the other hand has over 100 languages for a population of around 250,000 – making it the country with the world’s highest linguistic density per capita.

Join us for a public forum following the Competing Voices symposium. A panel of experts will examine ideas around national policies that recognize and protect minority languages, education systems that promote mother-tongue instruction, as well as creative collaboration between community members and linguists. Representatives from New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Reunion Island, and Wallis and Futuna Island will also attend the forum.


Emelda Davis is the founding member of the Australian South Sea Islanders (Port Jackson) (ASSI PJ) who were nominated the interim national representative body for ASSI's, based in Sydney, NSW guided by a national steering committee. Emelda has worked consistently for Federal, State Government and community organisations delivering innovative community development initiatives while diligently resourcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, South Sea Islander and broader community practitioners to deliver projects on a number of national and international platforms producing film, television, sports, events management, music and entertainment projects for grass roots, corporate and private sectors.

Professor Jakelin Troy is Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research at the University of Sydney . She is a Ngarigu woman from the NSW Snowy Mountains area, and returns to Sydney from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra where she was Director of Research, Indigenous Social and Cultural Wellbeing. Professor Troy gained her PhD from the Australian National University where her research looked at the development of NSW Pidgin. Since 2001, Professor Troy has been developing a curriculum for Australian schools with a focus on Australian language programs.

Professor Bernard Rigo is Professor of Oceanic Languages and Cultures at the University of New Caledonia Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Director of the Centre of New Studies of the Pacific (CNEP). He works across the disciplines of philosophy, anthropology, oceanic literature and culture and the epistemology of the social sciences. His most recent books include: Altérité polynésienne ou les métamorphoses de l’espace-temps (2004, Paris, CNRS Éditions), Conscience occidentale et fables océaniennes (2004, Paris, L’Harmattan). [[i||L’espace-temps polynésien\\ (2005, Papeete LARSH, ISEPP-Au vent des îles).

Ernie Dingo was born on the 31st July, 1956 on Bullardoo Station in Western Australia. Bullardoo is a sheep station near the Murchison River. Ernie is Wadjarri/Yamatji. Wadjarri is his tongue, his language which he still speaks and Yamitji is his people/nation. He is a ‘fresh water’ man from fresh water country. Ernie got his surname Dingo from his grandfather Dingo Jim, who was a dogger, a dingo trapper. On his death in 1948, Dingo Jim’s name was changed by white authorities to Jim Dingo. So the Dingo surname only came into being in 1948. Ernie’s tribal name in ‘OONDAMOOROO’. OONDA means shield, and MOOROO the particular carvings/pattern on the shield. He became a performer when the basketball team he played with became a dance troupe called Middar. From there he was offered his first acting role a co-lead actor, playing ‘Yagan’ in the Jack Davis play ‘Kullark’ in 1979. Since then, he has worked nationally and internationally in television, film and theatre.

Professor Nick Enfield (panel moderator ) is chair of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney, and a research associate in the Language and Cognition Group at the Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. His research on language, culture, and cognition is part of a long-term project aimed at understanding the foundations of human sociality.

Embassy of France in Australia

Supported by the Embassy of France in Australia and Institut Français