Words by Rosie Wang
When I look at a map of Australia and the layout of all the separate indigenous Australian groups it resembles a beautiful jigsaw puzzle.
Stretching back at least 65,000 years or ‘from the beginning of time’ more than 500 different clan groups or ‘nations’ cohabit the continent, all with their own distinctive cultures, beliefs and languages. There are 250 indigenous Australian languages, including 800 dialects that are spoken.
Keeping their languages alive is an intrinsic part of the Aboriginal people’s culture. Through language they keep their identity and maintain strong links to their communities and traditions. With their songlines, stories, spirituality, identity and connections, language is the glue that binds and creates a sense of belonging and empowerment.
Here in Port Douglas the local cultural group is the Eastern Yalanji. Their language is also known as Kuku Yalanji. According to the 2016 census this Pama-nyungan language was spoken by 320 speakers, of which 100 could read and write the language. With the language now part of the curriculum taught at Mossman State School this number is increasing.
As an amazing innovation, Mossman State School along with the Kuku Yalanji Language Advisory Group have developed the Kuku Yalanji language program which is currently taught at their school from Prep to Year 6.
The indigenous language program, which has been co-designed by indigenous elder, Mr Norm Tayley, and school staff, has been extremely well received by the school and wider community. The award-winning program has been running at the school since 2018 and is taught by local indigenous man, Mr Juan Walker. The Kuku Yalanji lessons are a popular addition to the school’s curriculum and help create positive relationships within the school and community, built on a strong understanding of culture and language. To support the Indigenous language program, a Kuku Yalanji languages app had also been developed.
Available on Android and iPhones, this amazing innovation brings the language to your fingertips.
Today, the Kuku Yalanji language is spoken by about 500-600 people here in Cape York from the Annan River to the Mowbray River, west from the Great Dividing Range and east as far as the intercontinental shelf in the Pacific Ocean.
The United Nations General Assembly has declared the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages to draw attention to the critical status of many Indigenous languages across the world and encourage action for their preservation, revitalization and promotion.
With this incredible initiative from organisations such as the Kuku Yalanji Language Advisory Group and Mossman State School, the future of this ancient language is in safe hands.