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National Update | Language, Indigenous, Government, Australia, Policy, Gunnai, National, Services | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture
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National Update
Yingia Guyula
Opposition to the deeply unpopular NT government policy to dismantle bilingual education in remote schools remain strong. Elders from all over the NT continue to plead with the government to listen to them. “Language comes from within, it’s alive, we are still living, we are not dead yet” said Gulumbu Yunupingu to 4 Corners reporter Debbie Whitmont on the ‘Returning to Lajamanu’ program in September. On the same program Djuwalpi Marika, Chairman of the Yirrkala School Council, said that they would ignore any government direction to cease bilingual learning. People are rightfully angry at this attack on their basic rights to teach and learn in their own language.


For more information about the struggle against this policy visit the ‘Friends of Bilingual Education’ at, or check out some of the excellent papers presented at the recent AIATSIS Research Symposium at


National Update
Colonising Species - Kevin Gilbert
Following some persistent lobbying, the federal government has finally created a National Indigenous Languages Policy. For the first time there will be a coordinated approach whereby DEWHA, DEEWR and FACHSIA will all work together to address language loss and promote education and language development. For a list of the key focus areas of the policy go to Importantly, this policy signals a clear acknowledgement that  Indigenous languages are at the core of Indigenous culture and wellbeing.


Australia finally has its first professionally accredited Indigenous Interpreters. On the 23rd of June Natasha Pozzana, Yingiya Guyula and James Gaykamangu attended a ceremony at Parliament House in Darwin to accept their National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NATI) accreditation certificates. They are now qualified to work in the Djambarrpuyngu language of East Arnhem Land. Training and certification costs were covered by the Rotary Club of Melbourne although the attending Minister for Local Government in the NT Rob Knight said his government was “committed to serving all Territorians, and the Aboriginal Interpreter Service”. 


Lets hope so. Yolgnu language speakers are currently double the number of any other language in the NT, yet interpreting services are dismal. Some para-professional interpreters services for the Darwin hospital and the courts do exist but for many people for whom English is a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language it’s nearly impossible to navigate essential services like the banks, Centrelink, Telstra, Australia Post, the Tax Department, and even FACHSIA itself, that don’t have an Indigenous language option. NT academic John Greatorex is blunt, “how can people engage with western society if you can’t even talk to the person on the other end of the telephone”. Things may improve in the future. The federal government’s new National Languages Policy does outline a long overdue but significant number of areas in which it will seek to strengthen and develop interpreting services and opportunities for accredited training.


“So excited that I am telling everyone I can think of” was Lynnette Solomon-Dent, when she heard the news that the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority (VCAA) had accepted Gunnai, the Aboriginal language of Gippsland in south-east Victoria, into the state education curriculum. After 20 years of teaching Gunnai, 2 years writing curriculum documentation and 1 year of state-wide community consultations, it had finally happened; “my Granddaughters were always asking me how come they have to do French when they wanted to do Gunnai, and now I will work with Rosedale Primary so they can learn their own language”. And anyone else in Victoria can learn Gunnai too: the language is now formally part of the LOTE (Language other than English) learning area, and although there is much work to be done training teachers and developing teaching tools. For more information please contact the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages through

Peter Allen’s hit and Qantas theme song ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ has been given an Indigenous makeover in the new Qantas TV ad: it is sung in Kala Lagaw Ya, the language of Mabuiag and other Western and Central Torres Strait islands; Ngoey rangadhau lag ubika udaigi I travel from home with this feeling of being free, Goeyga mul kalanu uzari the sun is over the water as I leave it behind, Ngau ngannakap ina ukar sikau kuthanu my heart lies waiting over the foam, Ngau inab lag Australia mudh my home is Australia.

Permission to use the language was granted by Adhi Dimple Bani, a chief of the Wagadagam tribe on Mabuiag Island, who are custodians of the dialect. Kala Lagaw Ya is one of the healthier Indigenous languages in Australia with between 3000 and 4000 speakers. Go to for an extensive overview.


National Update


‘Torres Strait Islands’, ink sketch, Ron Edwards, courtesy of Anne Edwards and Ramskull Pres.