• Gamilaraay language teacher, Dr John Giacon helps Indigenous students reuse their native language. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Gamilaraay is an Aboriginal endangered language that is now being used in classrooms and spoken in communities more than it was 20 years ago.
NITV Staff Writer

15 Jan 2018 - 3:20 PM  UPDATED 15 Jan 2018 - 3:24 PM

Priscilla Strasek, a Yuwaalaraay woman from Lightning Ridge is on a mission to help bring the native language of her people back from the brink of extinction.

More than 15 students, including Priscilla, have enrolled in an intensive summer course teaching the Indigenous Australian language from the mid-northwest of New South Wales at The Australian National University (ANU).

“People want to talk Gamilaraay again and that’s starting to happen. It’s spoken now more than it was 20 years ago."

The student says classes like these provide students the ability to help teach others from their own community.

“It’s our language and it’s very important to get people speaking it again,” Priscilla said.

“I’ve been learning Gamilaraay for a few years but to be able to do it through a uni is really great – for the language to be recognised in that way.”

The course is one of very few Indigenous language programs run at university level in Australia.

Dr John Giacon of the ANU School of Literature Languages and Linguistics has been teaching the course since it commenced in 2006 - the time when it was estimated that there were only 35 Gamilaraay speakers left.

"When people speak their language they are prouder and more resilient. It affects many aspects of their lives."

His passion for Indigenous language started in the remote NSW community of Walgett, where during his time as a High-School relief teacher, was dismayed by how few Indigenous students would progress through to Year 12.

Dedicating his life to helping prevent the Gamilaraay language from dying out saw him earn the 2016 Patji-Dawes Award - Australia's top honour for language teaching.

Passion for Indigenous language leads to prestigious Patji-Dawes award
Gamilaraay language teacher, Dr John Giacon, has won the Patji-Dawes award - Australia’s premier award for language teaching.

Now he wants to see a stronger focus on a well-planned approach to restoring Indigenous languages - starting with an increased focus on training a new generation of language teachers.

“This is a complex language, as complex as any other language,” Dr Giacon said.

“People want to talk Gamilaraay again and that’s starting to happen. It’s spoken now more than it was 20 years ago."

He says the main aim is to restore pride in Indigenous people speaking their native languages.

"When people speak their language they are prouder and more resilient. It affects many aspects of their lives."

The 2018 Australian Indigenous Languages Summer School started on Monday 8 January and will run for two weeks.

The 2019 Australian Indigenous Languages Institute in January 2019 will include other languages taught by Charles Darwin University, such as Yolngu Matha, a language becoming more recognised in the mainstream music scene, thanks to Indigenous rapper Baker Boy.

At just 20 years of age, Danzal Baker became the first rapper to use Yolngu Matha lyrics. His tracks Cloud 9  and Marryuna recieved international attention for representing real Aussie hip-hop through song, dance and didgeridoo playing. The Burralung/Gela was nominated for Triple J unearthed artist of the year and is set to support Dizzee Rascal, Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project, and 50 Cent alongside A. B. Original.

ANU is set to host a major forum on national Indigenous policies and governance in July. The forum, to be held in Canberra’s Old Parliament House, will include presentations by Aboriginal politicians such as the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, Minister for Indigenous Health, the Hon Linda Burney MP, Shadow Minister for Human Services, Senator Patrick Dodson and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.

The focus will be the Report of the Expert Panel on Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution (2012), the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2015), and the Uluru Statement of the Heart from 2017.

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