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Primary School brings Wiradjuri language lessons into the classroom

Students are learning Wiradjuri to help bring culture back to life.

One Sydney school is teaching its primary students to sing, count and greet one another in Wiradjuri.

 

Seven floors above the bustling city streets, primary students at St Andrew's Cathedral School are learning Wiradjuri.

The private Anglican school has a dedicated program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander primary students called Gawura.

Its 32 students begin Wiradjuri lessons in kindergarten with devoted lessons each week, with the wider primary school also learning Wiradjuri from year 3.

Kayliah Keegan, a year 6 Gawura student, says the classes have helped improve her language skills.

"My family talks it and I want to learn how to talk it so I can talk it back to my family," Kayliah told NITV News. 

"I talk it sometimes at home to my nan and she sometimes says a few words to teach me a bit about it. When I'm in Coonabarabran, which is in the bush, I talk it to my family there. "

Zavier Reid, a kindergarten student at the Gawura school, says that learning Wiradjuri is fun.

"I speak Wiradjuri with my uncle... my sister speaks it with me," he said. 

John Ralph, head of the Gawura school, said while the school is on Gadigal land many of the students are Wiradjuri. 

“So when it came time to pick a language we really wanted to pick at the time Gadigal language because that was the land that we were on. But at the time, five years ago, it was very hard to source a Gadigal teacher who was prepared and trained to teach Gadigal language," Mr Ralph said. 

The language lessons are taught by Wiradjuri woman Peta-Joy Williams. 

Ms Willaims says the primary school children are ‘eating’ the lessons up.

"My Gawura kids in year 1 and 2 actually deconstructed and reconstructed a song... what they did was they picked out the words they knew in Wiradjuri and placed them into it," Ms Williams said. 

“They can take pride in that because they’ve actually worked it out themselves."

She says that a lot of Indigenous languages are spoken in the same tone as the environment.

“So if the area was flat it would be spoken in a monotone, whereas if an area was hilly or mountainy the language would go down and up,” Ms Williams said.

“So depending on where you come from, the language tones would be different.”

Ms Williams believes teaching language at a young age gives the child a greater opportunity of retaining words and adopting the vocabulary as a second language.

“I think if they have the opportunity to start young and work all the way through school with it, I think that’s a great stepping stone,” Ms Williams said.

Ms Williams learnt Wiradjuri to ‘put a piece of her puzzle’ back together and has now become a language teacher hoping to keep culture and language alive.

“My theory is you can’t have language without culture and you can’t have culture without language,” Ms Williams said.

According to industry site EducationHQ, Japanese is the most common language taught in primary schools across the nation, followed by Italian, Indonesian, French, German and Mandarin. 

Arthur Eidel, a year 3 student of the St Andrew's Cathedral Junior School, says he can speak English, German, Mandarin and is now in the process of learning Wiradjuri. 

Mark Yang is a year 6 student at St Andrew's taking who is taking his Wiradjuri lessons seriously. 

"I have a really big interest in it because it is the Australian Aboriginal language and I am planning to speak it in the future," Mr Yang said. 

After Gawura students finish primary school, they join the wider school community at St Andrew's high school, but currently leave their Wiradjuri classes behind when they do.

Peta-Joy Williams teaches Wiradjuri
“My theory is you can’t have language without culture and you can’t have culture without language,” Peta-Joy Williams.
NITV News

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