Warnings about COVID-19 are being translated into Aboriginal languages to reach all Australians

Language barriers in parts of the Northern Territory are being broken down so all Australians can access important messaging about the coronavirus pandemic.

Sylvia Nulpinditj

Sylvia Nulpinditj has been translating messages for several different communities. Source: SBS

Clear messaging about coronavirus is the top priority for frontline workers and service providers in the Northern Territory.

Among them is Darwin-based Yolngu Radio which has been working tirelessly to translate information on COVID-19 to be broadcast to Indigenous communities across the Top End.

The station services six major North East Arnhem Land communities, 15 remote homelands, and the Darwin and Palmerston region.

Radio presenter Sylvia Nulpinditj said there is a glutton of information about the pandemic and it is important to provide communities with a clear message.

Sylvia Nulpinditj pre-recording information at Yolngu Radio Station
Sylvia Nulpinditj has been tirelessly working to translate information provided by the Northern Territory Government to keep communities informed Source: SBS

"At the moment a lot of people are in panic mode, they are afraid of people from outside visiting their communities," she told SBS News. 

"They're watching the whole world and it's giving them panic, so I think it's important to take care of how we are dealing with these stories - it needs to be told right and truthfully."

Ms Nulpinditj said the station has been providing the latest information about COVID-19 from the Northern Territory Government, as well information on social distancing, proper handwashing techniques and restrictions on gatherings and travel.

"This is not just a small concern, it's global," she said.

"Because it's an unknown virus, information needs to get out so communities can put in place precautions to try and slow the virus down."

Sylvia Nulpinditj standing in front of the Yolngu Radio Station
Ms Nulpinditj outside the radio station. Source: SBS

The Northern Territory Government is also in at least 17 different Aboriginal languages. 

But not everyone has access to TV, radio or digital services.

In Darwin, the homeless population or 'long grass' community is predominantly made up of Indigenous people who have travelled to the city for medical, personal or financial reasons.

They often sleep rough because of a shortage of culturally appropriate housing. 

Homeless people wait for soup kitchen in Darwin to open
The homeless community don't typically have access to TV, Radio or Online services and get their information from soup kitchens Source: SBS

Fran Avon, NT CEO for St Vincent de Paul Society, said many people come to the local soup kitchen for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as to do their laundry and to have a shower.

She said getting the message about COVID-19 to these vulnerable communities has been a collaboration among service providers.

"We've been working very closely with [community and health organisations] Larrakia Nation and Danila Dilba, and providing information in-language," Ms Avon said.

"We'll also ask anyone who can speak another language and English to translate for those who might not have as good an understanding of English, or it just feels safer coming to them in their own language."

Two people from the long grass community grab breakfast
In Darwin, the homeless population are known as the long grass community and often sleep rough because of a shortage in culturally appropriate housing Source: SBS

Operational changes have also helped illustrate the important measures being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Ms Avon said the courtyard where they operate the soup kitchen would normally have hundreds of people scrambling to get a seat and a feed, but new measures will ensure practical steps are being taken to stop the spread of the virus.

"So, this morning there was eggs and toast, but they were delivered in plastic containers with plastic bags," she said.

Volunteers helping give out food to the homeless in Darwin
The long grassers come to the local soup kitchen for food, to do their laundry and to have a shower but this may change under strict coronavirus measures Source: SBS

"Each of the companions were very aware of not standing close to one another unless they were part of the same family.

"I was chatting with a few people and they were very conscious of not shaking hands and ensuring that they maintained their distance too.

"I think the message is definitely getting through to the community. The community talk and so they are always aware of when there's a great meal happening in a place or if there's something they need to avoid."

Australians must stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Indoors, there must be a density of no more than one person per four square metres of floor space.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at  

NITV's Digital and Radio services are available at 

4 min read
Published 26 March 2020 at 2:33pm
By Aneeta Bhole
Source: SBS