More than 250 languages were spoken by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at the time of European settlement. Today, 90% are considered endangered. In honour of the 2019 United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, proud Indigenous young person Steph shares her experience of learning Wiradjuri and why it’s important to her.
Stephanie Yuwin Ngadhi (my name is). I am a mixture of cultures. A product of invasion, migration, and survival. My ancestors came from Scotland, Ireland, Britain, and Kenebri (a tiny town in Northern NSW) bordering Wiradjuri, Wailwan, and Gamileroi country.
Talking about my culture is a source of pride and vulnerability for me. It was not safe for my ancestors to be proud of their Aboriginality, speak language, practice culture, have Aboriginal children. Our culture is passed down orally; I only know what I have been told. Our Elders have passed on. Our culture will become extinct from our family if we do nothing to stop it. Our language already lost.
I am fluent in English. The language of colonisers. The language of my school, university, and workplace. The language of my family.
I am learning Wiradjuri. The language of my ancestors. The language of my family.
There is no duolingo for Indigenous languages and no classes nearby. So my partner bought me a Wiradjuri dictionary for my last birthday. I was ecstatic. To me, this was the key to connecting to my culture. I perused the pages. Practiced the words. Struggling to roll my r’s. The sounds fell awkwardly off of my tongue. A crude reminder of what was lost.
Learning my language has been difficult. Learning my language has been awkward. Learning my language has been lonely. But learning my language has been healing.
2019 is the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages and the spirit of revival in Australia is strong. I have chosen to share my language learning on social media. Wiradjuri language sprinkled throughout my profile. With the help of a dictionary and app I am able to practice language in my daily life. Teaching friends, family, and myself along the way. My progress has been slow but I know more words than I knew a year ago and that makes me feel walan (strong).
What doors does an Indigenous language open in Australia? Are there any? Ngawa (Yes).
Learning Wiradjuri has connected me to my culture in ways I didn’t know were possible for me. I only wish I could have had the opportunity to learn sooner. I am stronger in my identity and better prepared to share this with my family, to get them learning earlier than I did. This makes me incredibly hopeful for the revival of culture in our family.
Mandaang guwu (Thank you).