A Good Interpreter....Inawantji Scales PDF Print E-mail

My name is Inawantji Scales. My father was Piranpa, a non-Indigenous Australian, and my mother is Pitjantjatjara, coming straight from the heart of the Land of Central Australia. Mum and Dad both had children from previous marriages, so I have non- Indigenous siblings, Aboriginal siblings, and also siblings of mixed heritage. Growing up in such a bilingual and bicultural family, I started early in interpreting; generally for my family members and community members around Pipalyatjara, where I grew up. I probably always interpreted between my siblings, and later on for other people as well. Like, sometimes nurses would come around to see my grandparents, aunties, and uncles at their little campfire, and I’d just start naturally interpreting for them.

In 2003 when I was studying primary health workers Cert III in Alice Springs, we had as a guest speaker, Lena Taylor from the language centre at the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD). Lena came to talk about the interpreter’s role in the health system.

I talked to her about how I do general interpreting with my family and how I really wanted do the interpreting course. Then I found out that Lena is my mother (aunty in the European way).

After that I would go to IAD often and speak to Lena and find out more about interpreting, even though the interpreting course wasn’t running at that time.

I wrote a letter asking when they would be running the course next, and some years later, the program started up again. When I heard about it, I joined up straightaway.

In 2006 the interpreting course ran in Umuwa in the APY Lands, and I made sure I was one of the students.

The course was really good. It was eye-opening for me. I realised that there was a special way that interpreting was done professionally, with the ethics and with different interpreting techniques. It really sharpened me up from being a general interpreter around the campfire. I graduated in 2008, and then started working part-time as a teacher in the course, and part-time as a formal interpreter. TAFE asked me whether I would take on the teaching job when we were driving through my grandfather’s country at Kunyjanu. That must’ve been the voice of the Land, I reckon!

I learned a lot about teaching on the job, and I liked it. My position is important, because the course needs to be taught by a fluent language-speaker. I didn’t find it hard to move from being an interpreter to being a teacher, because both jobs are about communication. Anyway, a lot of my teaching work involved interpreting for our students. Now I’m studying the Cert IV in TAE (Training and Education), and learning a lot more about the elements of teaching. I should be finished my course very soon.

A good interpreter is one who can listen really well – wirura kulilpai - who can try and really understand that person, to really put your foot in their shoes and try and really understand what they’re talking about; to get a deeper understanding. If an interpreter can’t do that, then the interpreting might not be very good. An interpreter should also have good ethics.

Is it difficult to be a bridge between two cultures? Just count my wrinkles and my white hairs! And I’m only 28! This is as difficult as building a real bridge, which takes a lot of time learning, planning, explaining, arguing, and also takes a lot of skill to put up. Trying to balance two worlds in your hands, and trying to bring them together as one - and they’re totally foreign to each other – can be really, really difficult. Even in my own family there are two sides – Anangu and Piranpa – and trying to make them understand each other takes so much time and effort. Sometimes, when I was younger, I wished I was just one or the other, either Piranpa or Maru, but not a mixture of both. I just wanted to run away from it all, but I learned that I can’t, because that’d be getting away from me, that’d be denying myself. It’s like God chose my parents to have me so that I could be born to be the bridge for them. I used to help them communicate with each other, to explain things for them.

Interpreting is the best job, because you’re being a voice for someone who can’t speak that language. We are the voice from the Land! I love working with language, to find the words to use and to put them into meanings. I love working with the fantastic team at TAFE, and I love helping people.

Interpreting is important for the maintenance of language and culture. Language and culture is who you are, and working as an interpreter is using language and culture all the time, and it keeps it strong.

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Inawantji Scales
You can’t really separate interpreting from language and culture. It’s all the one thing. Interpreting gives a message to the mainstream that we are standing up for our language and culture, because it’s public and well-known, and everybody can see it in action. When students learn to be interpreters, they learn about their own culture and language in a deeper way. You could say our course is a language and culture course as well as an interpreting one. Our students learn from each other as much as they do from the teachers. And the teachers learn from the students as well.

Aboriginal people see the need to have interpreters, but they don’t jump up and down for it. They talk about it, but they don’t necessarily take it anywhere, they don’t take it up to whoever to say “I want to be an interpreter”, or “we need more interpreters in the community”. Who do they talk to about it? It’s the Government who says they want it, that it has to happen, but Anangu definitely needs it. It’d be good if it was the other way round, and if people came to us, saying they wanted to be an interpreter, just like I did.

I have a good job that came out of my interpreter training. Other people could work as interpreters in art centres, and fly around to different countries and states for exhibition openings. They could work in the court, or the hospital, clinic, police station, lots of places. One of the good things about interpreting is that people can get work in their own communities. Even if they go on holiday, they might get work. When I go to Alice Springs, sometimes people, when they know I’m there, they offer me interpreting work. And whenever I visit Pipalyatjara, or even Adelaide, I get work there too. Wherever language is spoken, there’s a need for interpreting. And where there’s a need for interpreting, there’s also a need for language teaching and cultural awareness. So our graduates could get work as teachers as well.

Just lately, I’ve been asked to join a team translating the Old Testament into Pitjantjatjara, and I can’t wait to start. Now, that translation was something that Anangu did ask for.