Aboriginal affairs

Celebrating Indigenous languages

A new 50c coin featuring Indigenous languages could give people more appreciation for Nyungar and Indigenous languages according to a leading Indigenous scholar.

Indigenous languages from all over Australia are the new face of a 50c coin released by the Royal Australian Mint on Tuesday.

Just in time to celebrate the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the silver coin is now circulating around Australia and features 14 words for ‘money’ from 120 Indigenous languages.

Money or objects representing monetary value did not exist in Australia before European colonisation.

Professor Len Collard from the University of Western Australia says “boya” is the Nyungar word for money.

“Boya is referring to stone or rocks. In the early days when Wadjela (white people) gave the Nyungars coins for work or whatever they were doing, they thought it was like stone so they gave the term to money, ‘boya’,” he said.

“If you live in Boyanup, the place of boya, the place of stone, it might be the place of money now, who knows!”

In 2016, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues found 40 per cent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing, with most of them being Indigenous.

According to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies the International Year of Indigenous Languages is an opportunity for all Australians to engage in a national conversation about Indigenous languages.

Professor Collard, who is a Whadjuk Nyungar elder and a respected Traditional Owner of the Perth Metropolitan area and surrounding lands, rivers, swamps, ocean and its culture, explains the Year is celebrated by lots of talking.

“It’s celebrated by talking, talking it up. There’s Nyungar talking going on all day, every day and everywhere in the Nyungar Boodja (country) plus elsewhere,” he said.

According to Professor Collard it is important and a good opportunity to celebrate Indigenous languages.

“It reminds everybody to practise their language heritage and talk it up. Basically, it continues the transmission of inter-generational values and ideas through talking and communicating,” he said.

On the 50c coin the different words for ‘money’ mostly come from the words ‘stone’, ‘rock’ or ‘pebble’ and representing Western Australia through “boya”, from the Nyungar language and “tjimari” from the Yankunytjatjara language.

Origins of the Indigenous words for ‘money’. Photo: Felicity Meakins and Brenda Thornley.

Australian icons such as kangaroos and emus are on our current coins and influential Indigenous Australian David Unaipon is on the $50 note.

Professor Collard said every year is Indigenous language year to him.

“I’m gonna get out there and get an uncirculated one and put it in my coin collection with all my other boya.”

Australian icons on our money. Photo: Kellie Balaam.

Categories: Aboriginal affairs

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