Living Languages ... Ada Hanson PDF Print E-mail

Living Languages ... Ada Hanson
Me on a sandhill with friends at Karlamilyi River
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Ever since I was born, I have seen how important Aboriginal languages are to the culture, history and future of Aboriginal people. Where do I start with my extraordinary life immersed in all things Aboriginal!

I was born in Derby, Western Australia (WA) but spent my first few years at Fitzroy Crossing, which is about 400km inland from Broome. My Father’s language is Bardi, from the One Arm Peninsula area in WA, but I grew up speaking Walmajarri, the language of the Fitzroy Crossing
area. The old people who taught me language gave me my Aboriginal name, Imbra, which was the name of an  Elderly woman from Noonkanbah Station. The Elders smoked me, made me part of their family and taught me to speak their language and appreciate their ways. Since then
I have travelled around WA and lived in many different communities including Parnngurr and Punmu in the Great  Sandy Desert, Gibb River Station, Ngallagunda Community in the Kimberleys and Woodstock and Jigalong in the Pilbara. I still keep in touch with everyone from these
places. In each community I was always surrounded by Aboriginal community life, and language was a part of births, deaths, ceremonies, celebrations and traditional Law.

I loved every bit of it.

Until I was five years old, I hardly spoke any English at all. First, I spoke Walmajarri that I learnt from the old people in Fitzroy  Crossing, and then there was Martu Wangka from the people of Parnngurr Community. There was the odd occasion where I would switch to English but only when I was speaking to my Mum or family in Perth. Once when I was two years old I went into a day care centre in Perth
whilst my mother was in a conference. In my own childlike way, I taught the day care workers about my language so they could talk to me and know what I wanted.

In Parnngurr Community everyone spoke Martu Wangka, which I quickly learnt so I could talk to all of my friends. I became a good Martu Wangka speaker at a young age.

Mum was the only full English speaker in Parnngurr but she spoke some Martu Wangka as well, so communication wasn’t a problem. It was fun to have a white mother who also spoke the language and for us to chat away about people without anyone knowing what we were saying.

Over the years, language has been our little secret way of communicating. When I was 11 years old we travelled overseas and we would still use language when we wanted to have private conversations - maybe the first time Martu Wangka has been spoken around the world!

Once I moved to Hedland, south of Broome, and started school, my English language skills improved fast. However a year spent back in Punmu Community when I was 8, and Parnngurr community when I was 10, meant that I learnt to effectively code switch between English and Martu
Wangka.

Living Languages ... Ada Hanson
Ronnelle, Thursley and Me at Parnngurr community, 1999
Once I started high school though, I wanted to fit in and be like my peers. I lost all my language skills and didn’t want to speak, or even hear, Aboriginal languages. Worse still, I didn’t even want to communicate with people I had grown up with because they spoke language. Thankfully this was only a stage I went through and by the time I was 16 years

was living in Jigalong Community again and back with the people speaking language. It was amazing how quickly I slipped back into it. I never knew I had those skills or that I knew the words, but sure enough, with a little practise, the language came flooding back.

Through the last few years of my life, I have worked with a number of Aboriginal organisations where I have seen the importance of keeping  language strong and how it helps you identify as an Aboriginal person. It also helps you express the culture and law. One of my greatest experiences so far was working for Wangka Maya Pilbara Language Centre in Hedland and being part of the conservation of Aboriginal languages.
A few years back I met up with some of the old ladies from Fitzroy Crossing. They spoke to me as though I had never left. But unfortunately I had lost most of my understanding of Walmajarri language and the close bond that I had with them was lost. I felt very sorry about losing that language bond. Since then I have tried my hardest to keep the language strong in my mind and use it as much as possible.

I am so glad that I have a way of rebuilding the connection I had with those lovely women.

I am very proud of the languages I speak. Maybe one day I’ll have a chance to live in the Kimberley communities and learn the language of my father’s ancestors, but in between time, as long as I do my bit to keep languages alive, I’m happy. Language helps me to know my heritage and keep strong the bonds I have with my ancestors.

Kanyilkura wangka jurnpurrpa. Wangka kalipurraju kaa kurrurnpa kuju mukumuku.

We ought to keep language strong. Language is very precious to me and I feel proud of my accomplishments.