Moorditj koorda: ‘Strong friends’ with our languages

The importance of Australia’s Indigenous languages have been recognised as part of today’s Harmony Day celebrations in Perth.

Children, teachers and parents gathered at Victoria Park’s public library to learn through song and dance with Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse.

Sharing the Indigenous Noongar language with others is something Gina Williams is passionate about.

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics less than 400 people identify as a language speaker,” Ms Williams said.

“That’s less than one-percent of the Noongar population and it’s not enough.”

The Indigenous musician said if every Australian learned five words of the language of the land in which they live on, the future of Indigenous languages would be secure.

“You probably already use Noongar language without even realising it,” she said.

“There are suburbs in Perth that have Noongar names … towns like Goomalling, a place of possums.

“This teaching and doing workshops is a very gentle, very soft way of showing people the language is beautiful and it’s not a threatening thing to learn.”

Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse performing ‘Wanjoo – The Welcome Song’ at Victoria Park’s public library. Photo: Steven Thomas

Curtin University’s Elder in Residence Simon Forrest said it’s important to not only learn the words and their direct translations, but also how those words relate to culture and identity.

“It can’t be done in a vacuum, you’ve got to have some sort of cultural context behind it,” Mr Forrest said.

He said while there are people trained to teach Aboriginal languages, with some schools running courses, the decision of what languages other than English the school runs is ultimately up to them.

Literacy and Learning Coordinator of Victoria Park’s library Deb Rigby said having Williams and Ghouse teach the Noongar language is part of promoting the library as an inclusive space.

“Anyone whether they’re rich or poor, young or old, whatever cultural background they’re from, [we want them] to feel they’re included in our Victoria Park library and any library,” Ms Rigby said.

She added it’s very important to keep the Noongar language alive and increase the number of those who can speak it.

“Even speaking a few words, ‘Kaya’ meaning hello and ‘Wanju’ meaning welcome, I think that’s really important for all Australians to know.”

Gina Williams said she can’t wait for a time when people don’t hear Noongar language and think it’s special.

“My hope is that one day Noongar language is ordinary … because we all understand it.”

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