PDF Print E-mail

5
Doug Abbott
Doug Abbott is someone who truly values the importance of being taught first in your own language.

As it was, his earliest experience of formal learning was in the most difficult circumstances you could imagine, and for many years left him feeling robbed of confidence and a true sense of identity.

The early setbacks slowed him down, but haven't stopped Doug from going on to become one of a team of dedicated language and culture teachers in the Northern Territory.

For Doug's birth in 1948, his mother was taken on a 180 kilometre trek into Alice Springs on the back of a camel.

Only a few days later she and her baby made the long trip home to the family, at Henbury Station on the traditional lands of the Sourthern Arrernte people.

The early years were happy ones for Doug, until at the age of ten, he and his older brother Ralph were taken away from the family and sent to live at the Alice Springs school.

The separation from home was trauma enough for the two boys, but complicated severely by the fact that neither of them had ever spoken English. No one at the school, either teacher or pupil, spoke their language, Arrernte, and so the two were isolated - to make it worse, in separate classes.

5
Doug addresses the Darwin conference.
Doug and Ralph were later joined by their brother John, and all coped as best they could for the years at the home. When at 15, Doug was finally free to leave, he joined his father and another brother, Barry, as a stockman on Idracowra Station.

Some long hard years and a knockabout lifestyle followed for Doug Abbott, before tie was able to wake up to a sense of pride in his heritage, and a determination to conquer his fear of the English language.
 
" There was so much I wanted to get out, to be able to talk back to these white people - more than just 'yes boss, no boss'. But because I didn't know enough English, I couldn't get it out."

" I realised that I was educated in my own way. I could speak four languages, Arrernte, Anmatyere, Pitjatjinjara and Loritja, and I knew the stories of my people." Doug drew strength from the teachings of his father, the local lore, and the lessons and stories passed on to him in his own language. He also began to take determined steps to improve his education.

Fourteen years on, Doug Abbott is still strongly committed to sharing his belief in the power of cultural heritage for the indigenous people of Australia.

He uses his knowledge of English and his own languages in working as an interpreter for the courts and Native Title hearings, but is particularly proud that lie can share the knowledge that was passed down to him, with his six children and nine grandchildren.

Doug is strongly in support of moves by the local Alice Springs town camp. where application has been made to change the zoning and have alcohol banned from the area. Working to prepare educational resources for use in schools, Doug has been frustrated at delays in having the material published.

"These stories should be getting out to our young people, to our tribal mob. Its important for schools and the adult language programs, but there doesn't seem to be enough money to publish it."

Doug was in Darwin in early November for the FATSIL AGM, He and others with similar stories, want to see more support for groups such as FATSIL and the Institute for Aboriginal Development in Alice Springs. Doug believes the strength of languages in restoring pride for indigenous people hasn't yet been fully appreciated.

"Without language you are nothing. When you know your language you know where you stand in the community, and the story of your own land. You know your skin groups, and where your place is in your family."

Thanks to the courage of people like Doug, the learning will continue into the future, and the lore of his father be kept alive.