Wiradjuri Ngawa Stan Grant Snr PDF Print E-mail

Next, you need to get the whole adult community involved, not just the children. If you don’t have your community behind you, you won’t have anyone to talk to! You also need to know that it takes time, a whole lot of time, not just weeks or months, but a whole lot of years. It also takes a lot of commitment. If you are going to get there, you are going to need the proper commitment to see it through. Another important thing is the time it takes to learn. If you think someone else is going to teach you, then forget it. It will only get inside your head if you do the work yourself.

To make a start you need to find the right materials. To do this, you must talk to your Elders. Don’t be in a hurry. Keep in touch with them all the time and make sure that you get their approval to go ahead and you will find that the project will work. This is very important.

Next, you need to find out if anyone still has any knowledge of the language. Make a list of names and numbers of people that know any of the language at all, even if it’s only a few words. Meet up with them and make a tape recording of any language they know. Anything helps – words, place names, sentences, stories, or songs. Find out if there are any anthropological records of language and try to get copies. You can ring the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra (02 6246 1111) and ask to speak to a linguist. You can also contact any local historical societies to see if they have any language records, or even your local librarian. I have always found these people to be very helpful. Lastly, make sure you keep all the original records safe and only use copies for your work, or to loan to other people.

Once you have started researching the language records and materials you need to start working on the structure of the language; the alphabet of your language, how it fits together, the different sounds that the words and letters make, and how it is different to English. This is hard and you’ll need to contact someone with some experience with this sort of technical stuff. You could contact a linguist, or a school of linguistics, or ask for advice from an Indigenous resource centre in your state. Once you have found some help with the alphabet for your language, you can start to write down words and sounds, and then speak them to see how they sound. You will have to practise this and work with other people to get the sounds right. For example, when we were researching the Wiradjuri language we found that ‘snake’ could be written as ‘gadi’ or ‘kati’ and ‘bite’ could be written as ‘badha’ or ‘pathat’. After practising and speaking the words with others, the ‘g’ and ‘b’ words were easiest to read and use. Practise is good way of checking it out. Of course, once you have made a decision you must again go back to your Elders to show them what you have done and get their approval. This is an essential part of the process and ensures that your program has a solid foundation.

Working on a dictionary is also very important. Once you have the sounds of the words coming along and your alphabet is taking shape, you need to start creating your word lists. Type them up and make sure you save them in a safe place on the computer. It will help if you organise them into columns; one for the language word, one for the English translation, and one for notes on where the word came from and any other information. If you put your word lists in a computer program that does spreadsheets or databases, then you can sort and find the words much easier.

Working out how the language is structured is the hardest part of the process. You don’t want to end up with just an English structured language with Indigenous words plugged in, so you will need to get help from someone that has experience with how languages are structured. Again, you will need to contact language organizations in your state or academics working in linguistics and Indigenous studies. Be careful to make sure that you understand everything that they tell you and that you keep control of what you want. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you feel is right and how you want them to help you. Remember that it’s your language and you’ve done the work with your community and Elders to get to this point.

Once you have your language structure in place you can start to create lessons to teach others. Find some simple sentences like ‘this is…’ or ‘that is…’ and make a list of words that you can put in the gaps. You can also get hold of some lessons from other language programs and use them as a guide. This will save you a lot of work.

Finally, and most importantly, relax and enjoy the process as it unfolds. Start speaking and learning as soon and you have something to work with and just do your best. Don’t be afraid of getting things wrong because this is part of the learning process. And of course, have fun!

After all of this you should be well on your way to reclaiming your language. Remember, it will not be easy. There will be people who will ask why you are doing this, that you know nothing about research or languages, or that you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t listen to them! Keep focussed on what you are doing, for your people and for your children. I say to all those people who are assisting Indigenous people with their language programs, thank you, but remember that because you are necessary this does not make you important. And to the Indigenous people working on language programs I say, because you are important does not make you necessary. We need each other to be successful.

In my long career with language development there have been many successes. There are now Wiradjuri language programs being taught in many schools including Forbes, Parkes, Griffith, Dubbo, Bathurst and Narramine. I have been teaching at Narrandera TAFE, Wagga Wagga, and with some inmates at Junee Correctional Centre. One young man from Junee has spent 22 of his 42 years in Juvenile Centres and jails. After his release in October 2006 he went to live in Wagga and has not been in trouble since. He says that this is because he did the language program in jail and it has helped him to know who he is and give him some direction in life.

When the white man colonized our country our people had everything taken from them. Now, with a lot of extremely hard work, we are regaining our languages and our identity. Our culture is still strong and has begun to grow again right across the country. But it is only as we stand tall on our own feet that we can start to take back authority of our own.

Wiradjuri Language

Greetings: Yamandhu marang? Are you well? Ngawa baladhu marang. Yes I’m well. Marang nganha. That’s good.

Family: Gunhi Mother Babiin Father Wurrumany Son Gaagang Older Brother Mingaan Older Sister Minhi Younger Sister Gagamin Younger Brother Migay Girl Birrany Boy Gudha Baby

Introductions: Widyu-ndhu yuwin ngulung? What’s your name? Yuwin ngadhi Stan. My name is Stan. Ngandhi nginha? Who’s this one? Nginha gunhi. This is mother.

Ngawa / Yes Wiray / No

Previous Pages: William Barak, ‘Ceremony’, circa 1895, Collection: Art Gallery of Ballarat, Gift of Mrs Anne Fraser Bon, 1934