This land had a rich culture of storytelling. The first writing took the form of rock carving, bark painting, sand drawing and pokerwork on skins and bark, but there was also a strong oral language tradition.
Prior to European settlement, up to 700 languages were spoken across Australia, with 38 in Victoria. Today it is estimated 120 Aboriginal languages are being spoken and more than half of those are considered endangered. Not all of these languages and stories are widely known – but they form an important literary heritage and a platform for reviving language and strengthening culture.
Language helps us to define who we are, the place in which we live and how we got here. And if we listen closely, we can still hear Indigenous communities across the state tell their stories, celebrating their language and culture.
Nyernila – which means to listen continuously – brings together creation stories from across Victoria; stories about the land, the animals and the people.
Nyernila preserves and brings to the children of today the tradition of storytelling passed down through generations for at least 30,000 years that imparts knowledge and provides guidance.
The Nyernila project began in 2010 with a series of language development workshops conducted by the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages in Aboriginal communities across the state. By transcribing the sounds, writing the words, defining the meaning, composing the sentences and publishing dictionaries with each community, the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages helped these communities tell their forebear’s stories in their own language.
The publication of these stories in Nyernila reflects the active process of language reclamation. Some communities have developed extensive vocabularies therefore entire stories appear in traditional language. Other communities - and the work has begun in Yorta Yorta - are beginning the hard work, recovering one word at a time, some of the first steps in sharing their language and stories with the world.
You can download Nyernila – Listen Continuously here.
Translated by Djetcha Zeta Thomson - Yorta Yorta
In the time of creation there was a calm over the vast, mist-covered land. Biami the Creator Spirit saw the old woman, Gumuk Winga, with her empty coolaman. She looked very hungry. Biami then told the old woman to go and search for some yams. So she then picked up her digging stick and set out across the land with her dog.
The old woman walked and walked a long way away and could not see any yams. As time went on she became very weary, walking slowly with her digging stick dragging along the earth. Day turned to night, she walked far under the moonlit sky, singing softly and hoping for some yams to appear. Biami waited for the old woman but could not see her anywhere. Biami called out to Gane, the great rainbow Snake, who was laying asleep beneath the earth. When Gane heard Biami calling out to him, he lifted his head and made his way to the surface of the earth. He lay there looking out over the dry land when Biami asked him to go and find the old woman and bring her back safely.
Gane then set off following the marks in the earth left by the old woman's digging stick. His great body moved across the land pushing the earth into hills and valleys, leaving deep crevices in the earth. Beautiful colours from his body spread throughout, covering trees, plants, birds, butterflies and all other creatures.
Then Biami called out in a loud voice, and thunder cracked as lightning flashed across the sky and rain fell. It rained for days, filling up the deep crevices in the earth that were made from the rainbow snake's body. Then the rain stopped and the mist cleared and the river Dungala was formed. This is the name used by the Yorta Yorta people. Others know it as the Murray River.
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