Two years ago a group of unemployed women from Binjari community, just 20km west of Katherine, were given the chance to read and write in Kriol.
Like most Binjari residents, they spoke Kriol as a first language, but never learned how to read and write it at school. After several training workshops, the group of 14 were able to develop alphabet charts, a wall dictionary and read stories from Binjari Elders that inspired them to take Kriol outside the community.
Binjari Buk (Binjari Books) is a project that not only empowers Indigenous women but aims to educate youth about Aboriginal culture, stories and languages, guided by Linguist and affiliate of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Denise Angelo.
“When I asked how I could contribute to the Binjari community while I do PhD research on Kriol, people suggested that I could work with the women on Kriol literacy. And that’s what we did,” Denise said.
Stories such as Moli det bigibigi (Molly the pig), a piglet who discovers breakfast cereal and grows bigger than all the dogs that bullied her, have the feel of an authentic yarn. Others, like Tudei en longtaim (Now and then), a reflection on the many differences between modern life and the olden days, have important cultural teachings for youth.
"These stories reflect part of their culture and will help guide the next generation."
Denise says the community project has been "uplifting and engaging" for the women.
“The women put in a fantastic effort at the writing workshop which aimed to develop texts suitable for board books, storybooks and early chapter books,” Denise said.
Kriol is the largest contemporary Aboriginal language spoken in Australia today, stretching from the Kimberleys in Western Australia through to the Gulf areas in Queensland.
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) sponsored the 2017 writing and illustrating workshops, along with Harper Collins and 1010 Printing. The ILF will distribute copies of the books to schools, childcare and health services throughout the Kriol speaking areas of Australia.
There was a launch for the books earlier this month in Katherine, and Tina Raye, Program Manager at the Indigenous Literacy Foundation said it was a chance for the women to share their stories, culture and language to the wider community.
"It was amazing to see how engaged everyone was, especially the children... There was absolute silence in the room while the women were reading!"
The Arabana Bardi and Jabirr Jabirr woman thinks it’s an opportunity for children who speak Kriol at home to see their language reflected around Australia in high quality books.
"These stories reflect part of their culture and will help guide the next generation. They are incredibly important for not only Kriol kids, but all kids to see that Kriol is one of many languages spoken across the country."
Tina says the women who wrote the books also produced the illustrations, assisted also by the artistic know-how of Julie Haysom and have been percieved as 'local leaders'. Already there are flow-on effects for the community due to the success of the project.
Despite another school year wrapping up, a group of 15 teachers met with Denise to discuss methods of supporting Kriol speaking students in the classroom. Roper Gulf Shire Council, community members and schools are discussing how to get more Kriol speakers in Katherine town school classrooms. The ILF has also undertaken to support another Kriol book project next year at Jiilkminggan community.
Binjari Buk Collection:
Ola namba en kala (Numbers and colours) by Bernadine Booth
Olkainawan kalawan loli (Lollies of different colours) by Milly Raymond
Yakai! Beibigel! (Oh no! Baby girl!) by Maureen Hodgson
Moli det bigibigi (Molly the pig) by Karen Manbulloo
Tudei en longtaim (Now and then) by Stella Raymond
Fishing – lenimbat ola biginini (Fishing – teaching children) by Marilyn Frith
Roki det kenggurru (Rocky the kangaroo) by Maureen Hodgson
Hanting gada biliken (Hunting with billycans) by Maureen Hodgson
Hanting gada trekta en treila (Hunting with a tractor and trailer) by Maureen Hodgson