Australia

The radio show only a handful of people in Australia can understand

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Eirwen Taylor loves presenting her radio show in the New South Wales Southern Highlands - even though most of her listeners don't know what she's saying.

Eirwen Taylor knows her radio show is special. Most of her audience can’t understand a word she’s saying but love listening anyway.

The 72-year-old broadcasts in Welsh each week from a small community radio station in Bowral, rural New South Wales, called Highland FM.

It’s over 17,000 kilometres from where you’re more likely to hear the language spoken in Wales.

Eirwen Taylor
Eirwen Taylor at Highland FM in Bowral, NSW.
Gwen Griffith/SBS News

“I speak in Welsh for most of the program. A lot of people here in the Southern Highlands are Welsh," she tells SBS News. 

"Not many of them speak it fluently ... Sometimes I explain to them what I’ve been saying. When I present the news, I say it in Welsh first, then a shorter version in English."

Eirwen Taylor
Gwen Griffith

Even though a lot of Eirwen's listeners can't understand her properly, she says she's got a dedicated following who tune in just for the music. 

"The people around here love listening to the choirs and the songs they’re used to hearing, like [popular Welsh song] Myfanwy," she says. 

"So I play them now and again, but I like to mix it up too. I buy CDs from Wales and bring them out with me, or get them sent out and I play a good mixture of young people’s music … things like [Cardiff singer-songwriter] the Gentle Good ... and of course [folk singer and politician] Dafydd Iwan.”

Eirwen Taylor
Gwen Griffith

Eirwen fell into presenting after the previous Welsh DJ became ill. With no previous experience in radio, the retired home economics teacher was quickly trained up and she has now been presenting her show Ffenast ar Gymru (Window on Wales) for more than five years.

She moved to Australia 40 years ago from Criccieth in North Wales and loves any chance she gets to speak the language. She is also a member of the Sydney Welsh Society, the Dylan Thomas Society, and she takes her grand-daughter a Welsh playgroup every fortnight.

How many people speak Welsh?

Finding another Welsh speaker in Australia is not always easy. 

Only 32,090 Australian residents were born in Wales, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for 2017, but the Australian census reveals there are only 1,689 people who speak Welsh at home. 

In Wales, nearly 20 per cent of the population speak the language - 562,000 people in Wales and another 150,000 in England - according to the 2011 UK Census. There's a concerted effort to raise the number its speakers with the Welsh government setting a target of ensuring one million speakers by 2050.

There is also a community of up to 5,000 Welsh speakers in Argentina and there was an attempt to start a Welsh colony in Patagonia in the 1800s.

Shan Moore, Highland FM listener
Regular listener: Shan Moore.

Shan Moore from Mittagong is one of Eirwen’s regular listeners. She moved to Australia from Creunant in South Wales more than 50 years ago and has forgotten most of her mother tongue. She often catches Eirwen’s program when she’s out and about in her car.

"I think it’s very good that she plays Welsh music and speaks Welsh. I understand most of it although I don’t speak Welsh anymore," she said.  

"I did speak Welsh originally, but the English decided that Welsh was not to be spoken any more in the schools, so now I’ve forgotten it. I still understand everything, and I can read Welsh, and it’s very interesting when Eirwen has the Welsh news on, which you can pick up quite easily - well I can anyway." 

Eirwen Taylor
Gwen Griffith

SBS used to broadcast a regular Welsh radio show until the 1990s, but Ffenast ar Gymru is the only weekly Welsh program currently on air in the whole of Australia.

Highland FM manager John Hibberd says about 14,000 people listen to the station at least once a week and he encourages Eirwen to keep broadcasting in Welsh. 

“They love the music even though they don’t understand the language. People just love the Welsh music and it’s different. Because we do rock and roll and jazz and all the other stuff, so ethnic music is really important.”

And Eirwen is showing no signs of stopping. 

“It takes time to prepare the program. Every Monday morning I choose the music, and every Tuesday morning I read up on the latest Welsh news, to make sure it’s current. It takes time, but I thoroughly enjoy it.”

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