My language is Yorta Yorta which was and is spoken by the majority of the clan groups within the Yorta Yorta Nation.
It was in 2013 that I was first really exposed to Yorta Yorta language. I was 24 at the time.
I had only grown up with a few Yorta Yorta words until I started working as a language support worker in a local primary school that had just introduced a Yorta Yorta language program.
I had no teaching experience before I started teaching. I was only a few steps in front of the kids with my own language learning.
Growing up in Shepparton in Victoria, on my dad’s country, Yorta Yorta country, I was very lucky to have a connection to my culture and my elders. My father was heavily involved with Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation, our traditional owner organisation, when I was growing up. I have always been surrounded by influential and strong Yorta Yorta people. I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about our history and culture from my elders.
Family has always been important. Knowing family connections and where my family has come from has been vital for my sense of belonging. Now I’m working for the Resource Network for Linguistic Diversity, a small not-for-profit organisation that is based in Melbourne. Our organisation provides training to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people doing language work around the country.
To work with different language groups across the country is one of my biggest achievements that I will treasure for a lifetime. I have met so many hospitable, brilliant and knowledgeable people. Being able to work with people and help them in any way I can with their language work might be my job, but it is more than that to me. It is two-way learning.
Language is more than communication
I not only get to support language workers and language teachers with their needs, I get to hear other people’s languages and I get to see their beautiful countries that they belong too. Language is more than a form of communication, it is the catalyst, the carrier, for everything. Language is not only a part of the sphere of culture, it is through language that we can express the many other layers of the sphere culture.
The revitalisation of language is important to identity. Self-esteem, belonging and culture has the ability to address the trauma of the past. The trauma from the acts of colonisation and policies that were put in place.
Language work — whether it be to make a language stronger or to keep a language strong — is important and essential for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people because, ultimately, it’s about the continuation of the civilisation/s we come from. Language is a big part of that continuation.
I feel the community that own the language should be the ones first and foremost that should be learning their languages because of the benefits this has on language community as a whole.
These communities are going through a process of bringing their language back — not for the wider community, but to heal themselves as a people. A process in which, I think, deserves all the time necessary for the community, in the best way that works for them.
Language and culture mean different things to different people
While having the wider community taking interest in the languages and Indigenous peoples of their area is a good thing, some of the demands for language are too big and ask too much of people.
Having someone from another language group or culture altogether knowing my language before me would give me a sense of loss, hopelessness and self-loathing towards my identity. Language and culture come hand in hand. They belong to each other. Without both, it is hard to recognise the holistic understanding of a people’s way of living, the connectivity of past-present-future, belonging and the connectivity of all the living organisms on their country.
Language also recognises the spirituality of land, water and non-living beings, apart of our epistemologies.
Language and culture are distinctive to every group around the country. Every individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person has their own personal view of what it means to them as well. I think it is important that all of Australia knows that.
Yorta Yorta woka murrangurang angurram-banga murrangurang angurram-ak
Translated from Yorta Yorta to English, this means:
“Always was, always will be Yorta Yorta land.”
This is a phrase I grew up with: “Always was, always will be Yorta Yorta land.”
It has been a constant reminder of all the fights for change my ancestors and elders have done over the years and the work they have done to give us what we have today.
It is a reminder that this work is still not over and it is something that the generations to come will need to carry on into the future. For us, and for Australia, to be whole again.
This is part of a series of stories by First Languages Australia Young Champions, a group of young people who are working to preserve and revive Indigenous languages across the country.
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