Kaurna Man.... by Vincent Buckskin PDF Print E-mail
My name is Vincent Buckskin and I am a descendant of the Kaurna people, the Indigenous people of the Adelaide area in South Australia. My Grandfather is from Point Pearce, Yorke Peninsula, in South Australia, and my Grandmother's family is from Robertsville, Victoria. Since I was born in Adelaide and have lived here all my life, I started speaking the local Indigenous language 'Kaurna', which is a close relative to the Narrungga language on Yorke Peninsula. I started speaking the language because growing up we spoke a couple of different dialects in one sentence such as Ngarrindjeri, Kaurna, and Narrungga, and I thought it would be good to know one fluently.

Kaurna country bounds Crystal Brook in the north, Mount Lofty Ranges in the west, St Vincent's Gulf to the east and Cape Jarvis in the south. The language was last spoken on an every day basis in the late 1860's. My Elders like to say that Kaurna language was not forced to extinction, but forced to sleep by the missionaries who came to our land.

When I was a young fella around nine years of age, my uncle, whom I am named after, worked at the Adelaide Museum. We used to walk around the place together, especially through the Aboriginal section. Getting to know my culture was very interesting even at that age. I knew then that my family did not live the traditional life out in communities, and had moved away from the missions because they had been forced there in the first place. Now we are known as urban 'Nungas', which means we live in the city. From a young age I wanted to learn as much as possible about how my grandparents and great grandparents lived.

After completing my year 12 I started work as a greens keeper on two golf courses around Adelaide but after two years I realized that it was not what I was really interested in. I quit working and decided, with strong moral support from my family, to go to university - the first in our family to do so. I studied Aboriginal Policy and Management, but due to my sister's passing I deferred my studies.

I am strong believer that things happen for a reason. My sister and I were very close. Some say like twins. She was very culture orientated and tried to brush it off to me, but when she passed my whole life changed. Now I still have her here with me and believe she helped me through the hard times. It's made me realize that I should be here to learn about culture and language and to teach my family, as she taught me.

Kaurna Man.... by Vincent Buckskin
Vincent Buckskin & his sister Mary Elaine Buckskin
At my sisters funeral I met back up with an uncle and his son whom I hadn't seen for a while. A few weeks later they asked if I wanted to start dancing with them. They had been doing it for years, so I thought I would give it a go. Now I dance regularly with them in a group called Taikurtinna. The name means 'family' in Kaurna, since all the dancers are family, some from different places, but still related.

Since Taikurtinna is a Kaurna-based Aboriginal dance group my uncle thought it would be a good idea to speak the language as well. The helpful thing is that Kaurna is very similar to Narrungga and the Aboriginal-English that we grew up with. A lot of Kaurna culture has been lost over the years and now I work on Kaurna language reclamation to helpother young people to grow up with a better sense of Indigenous identity. Language and land are crucial in Aboriginal culture and I wanted to help make it easier to access resources and information.

I’m doing some other work with the Kaurna language as well. My language teacher asked if I would like to help him on a Place Naming project with four local councils in the South of Adelaide, the Kaurna Warra Pintyandi language committee, and the National Geographic place naming Unit. They needed someone to record the Kaurna place names and any other related information for a database. When all the information was compiled we put it on a website to show people the importance of language and how it connects us to the land.

I am now an Aboriginal Education Worker at Salisbury East High School in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. My job is to keep young Aboriginal people interested in school by setting up special programs and courses. The aim is to help prepare them for when they leave school. I also help family, students and teachers understand each other’s circumstances.

At the end of 2007 I worked on a Kaurna language Learners Guide called ‘Kulluru Marni Ngattaitya’. With the help of a lot of Kaurna people in the community, I recorded most of the language CD that accompanies the guide. It’s going to be a great resource for our people and is going to be made into a book of Kaurna language.

The language work I have done has taken me to some interesting places. Last year I went to the Foundation of Endangered Languages conference held at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I met indigenous people from all over the world who have suffered and suffer from the same issues we have in Australia. I also went to Ballarat, in Victoria, for an International Toponymy conference where I presented a paper I wrote with Dr Rob Amery called ‘Pinning down Kaurna Place Names’. I also talked about the Kaurna website that I worked on.

I am also on the Kaurna Warra Pintyandi language committee and meet on a monthly basis to discuss language issues like Businesses/Program renaming, permission to use Kaurna words, and place naming. The fees that we charge for language services go back into community projects. Some of my conference fees have been paid for in this way.

When I am dancing with Taikurtinna my uncle normally gets up and speaks on behalf of all of our dancers. After doing it for a year or so he pushed me in the deep end and said ‘you have listened for long enough now, time for you get up and do some yarnin’. It was hard the first couple of times but then it got easier and more things started to flow out of my mouth in Kaurna language.

Now I feel like I’ve picked up quite a lot of language from all the projects and lessons that I’ve been involved with. We have no fluent speakers of Kaurna left but when I’m teaching I feel really comfortable with what I already know. I also feel when I am speaking language that it reminds my spirit who I really am and where our people have come from.

Vincent Buckskin & his sister Mary Elaine Buckskin