Category Archives: Activities

WANALA 2018 Collections Management Workshop

The Western and Northern Aboriginal Languages Alliance (WANALA) biannual forum was held in Batchelor last week. It brought together interested people from language centres around WA and the NT, as well as some other interested parties. One of the streams focused on collections management, which is always a challenge for language centres. There are many technical issues (which of the myriad tools available are appropriate for which context? How to weigh up usability, price, functionality, support required and rapid turnover?), funding issues (there is rarely funding available to support the time and human resources required for appropriate collection and archiving of precious language resources) and intellectual property issues (language centres are answerable to the communities they serve, while also managing compliance with national laws, negotiating the balance between open sharing and careful restriction). This workshop was an excellent opportunity for people to come together and share ideas about all these issues in a supportive, friendly environment.

The first morning involved presentations from language centres about the issues they face. Julie Walker shared the Wangka Maya experience, having been incorporated in 1987 but not having an archive when she started in 2013. This meant there was no system in place for managing the collection of books, recordings and files produced in languages of the Pilbara over many decades. A fire in the building led to smoke damage that destroyed over 5000 cassettes, which in turn affected relationships in the community. A significance assessment and conservation assessment led to recommendations for disaster planning, and they outsourced a South Australian company to digitise their collection. She noted that specialist support is very hard to find in remote contexts, making it incredibly expensive to build and support appropriate infrastructure, and long distances between communities means that workshops need to be carefully planned – laptops running out of power hundreds of kilometres away is a problem not faced in our major cities. The language centre faces many requests from community members to access materials, so detailed metadata is required, which also linked to physical or digital locations – knowing something exists is not the same as being able to show it to someone.

David Nathan from the Groote Eylandt Language Centre reported on the development of a database that responds to the need for a repository for the huge amount of materials produced over many years which had never been systematically collected or catalogued. He noted that the most important knowledge about the materials is not in the system or metadata but in the community itself. The Ajamurnda database is designed to bring together the two components – digital resources and the local knowledge about them. He noted the importance of a collections policy to assist with the selection and curation of files, the use of software to automate some of the processes, and the benefit of using unique file IDs in managing long file names. They developed a range of access protocols that allow people to feel safe about looking at things and about what other people are looking at, coming up with 7 categories which are currently being tested, with a view to creating a living map of knowledge circulation.

Daryn McKenny from Miromaa Aboriginal Language & Technology Centre reported on how they’re managing both the physical and digital collections they’ve developed over many years, including some very rare historical documents about the languages of the Newcastle area. He described the different processes used for capturing and storing metadata, as well as various means of mirroring and backing up. He showed the Fujitsu Scan Snap, a handheld scanner with a range of software that makes digitisation look very simple. He also identified some of the challenges of keeping a physical collection safe, and recommended some useful software and tips that not-for-profit agencies can benefit from.

Presenting online, Mari Rhydwen from Muurrbay Language Centre shared a different perspective, as they don’t create much new material but need to keep safe existing material. They use Dropbox to store files, but acknowledge that this is not ideal. There were also concerns about security and access, for example if computers are damaged or stolen, or if someone with a large collection passes away. Looking to the future, if the language centre did not exist, what would happen to all these materials?

Siobhan Casson from the Kimberley Language Regional Centre in Halls Creek showed images of their archive room in the centre of their building, and how their material has been carefully catalogued over the years, earning high praise for their collection in a Significance Assessment in 2008. The difficulties have been in maintaining this high standard, with turnover of outside staff, lack of committed funding to this aspect of the centre, and the lack of links between the digitised materials and the database. The challenge of working in a language context with no embedded literate culture means some materials like grammars and dictionaries are not the most appropriate for supporting intergenerational language transmission, yet funding opportunities tend to prioritise text-based resources rather than teaching on country programs. She proposed an information management system that could incorporate the digital archive as part of a larger infrastructure, and they are looking for how this might be done effectively.

After hearing from the language centres, the next sessions focused on institutional archives and how they can support the work of language centres. Cathy Bow from Charles Darwin University presented on the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, a digital collection of endangered literature in languages of the Northern Territory. A collaborative partnership funded by the Australian Research Council, the archive contains around 5000 items in 50 languages. The collection is stored on the university’s library repository, in PDF and text form for presentation, and TIFF formats for preservation, available through a visual website that requires little text or technical literacy to navigate. She described the way tensions between copyright and Indigenous cultural and intellectual property are being managed, through licenses, permission forms and take-down notices, while using a Creative Commons license to inform users of the conditions under which the materials are shared.

Karen Manton from the CALL Collection at Batchelor Institute acknowledged the importance of the people whose work form the basis of their national collection, and how seriously they take the responsibility of caring for these materials. They have developed an extensive database and have been digitising their collection, with first stage of their website now available. With help from Terri Janke, they developed a range of end user licenses and protocols which inform and protect both the creators and users of the collection.

Amanda Harris from PARADISEC described nearly 50 Tb of files from 99 countries and over 1000 languages, which has now spread well beyond the Pacific region. Their custom-built database promotes discoverability, and where possible embeds metadata directly into files. She discussed some of their strategies of enriching metadata, by inviting language experts and community members to add value to the collections, as well as activities to promote the collection such as a Virtual Reality event at Canberra Museum in 2017. Their collection includes materials form Australian languages and they are pursuing partnerships with language centres to support local archiving activities.

In the panel discussion time, Steven Bird from CDU shared a 2010 checklist for language archives which focused on the key issues of audience, access, preservation, sustainability, but noted that issues of relevance to Indigenous Australia should also be included, such as cultural protocols. It was noted that the intertwining of technology and human resources is often under-estimated – a language centre may get funding to buy or build software, but the cost of a staff member to research, install, maintain and train others in using this is not always factored in by funding bodies. There was a clear indication that language centres wanted to manage their own collections, not relying on external experts who leave without building capacity for ongoing local sustainability. It was noted that collections and archives are not exactly the same, with daily management of materials often demanding more immediate attention than the safe storage and backup of archival materials. David Nathan urged caution about use of the word ‘archive’ to mean all sorts of other things – collection, library, website, backup, server – which don’t necessarily conform to the requirements of an actual archive. Steven Bird noted that technology is only one part of the process of information management, and noted that the federal government’s commitment to technological solutions, as articulated at the National Indigenous Languages Convention on the Gold Coast earlier this year, needs to be challenged. The current forum is an opportunity to articulate what is required and how the government can support the vital work of language centres, with the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019 an ideal opportunity to become more visible and more vocal in our efforts.

In the workshops after lunch, small groups worked on specific topics, such as Access, Planning, People and Skills. The planning group focused on knowing where to start, such as with an audit of what materials there are and in what forms, which can then be used as the basis for a database, whether a simple spreadsheet or a more complex system. A suggestion that the government could provide storage for off-site backup for language centre materials was met with caution from those who don’t trust the government to do this, although some agreed that AIATSIS would be a suitable repository. Prioritisation of work is also crucial, thinking internally, regionally, and nationally, with a view to sharing knowledge and avoiding duplication of effort. Both the audit and prioritisation processes require funding and time and people, which are all in short supply in language centres. There may be some crowdsourcing or volunteer options, though these may require some initial setup. First Languages Australia could support the process by providing case studies, guidelines and factsheets, if people are willing to share what they have. There was some concern about language becoming a product that can be packaged, so the need for more innovative ways to think about collections and data as something other than artefacts to be managed, and to communicate the value of our languages (in all their forms) for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The final session of the day involved discussion of tools. Susan Locke from First Nations Media Australia (formerly IRCA) described their multifaceted approach to developing resources and standards, and their coordinated approach to a national community collections plan. They are working on an affordable digital asset management system (DAMS) for Indigenous media organisations which would manage preservation files for archiving, managing ‘mezzanine’ files for production house purposes, managing community viewing and listening, capturing cultural information, and controlling access according to cultural protocols. This work will begin in 2019 but requires additional funding.

Anja Tait from Northern Territory Library asked us to reconsider ‘what is a library’ as she described their 32 remote library services, plus providing wifi to 44 communities. She described some legacy projects – a language app, bilingual board books – as well as an innovative rethinking of how to classify library materials in a community environment. They’re currently in the process of reconfiguring the Community Stories service, which enables local communities to store and share photos, videos, texts, etc. under local authority. The library is considering how best to serve the local and regional needs of communities, and Anja ended with a statement on the importance of trust.

Daryn McKenny shared about extensions to the popular Miromaa software, which will include the capacity to manage collections for language centres. The update will allow users to manage multiple databases through a single interface, and each database can have its own security or cultural protocols attached. It will also be customisable, so users can create their own fields and tags, and allows storage of digital artefacts within the system, directly linked to the metadata.

On Thursday, continuing talk of tools, Nick Thieberger from the University of Melbourne shared 3 emerging projects happening through CoEDL. The first is a multi-platform extension of SIL’s SayMore program to assist users to enter catalogue information when creating collections, allowing simple means to view and add information about files, people, places, etc. The second is a collections database for small agencies, allowing language centres and others to create rich metadata to keep track of their collections. The third is based on the Digital Daisy Bates project, as a map interface to collections, where a user can click on a map location to see a text, and the text and images scroll together. They have funding for each of these projects and are looking to partner with language centres to explore them further.

The discussion part of the workshop covered many different areas, from a warning about talking only about ‘tools’ but rather thinking in terms of ‘concepts’, to a call for Miromaa to become the tool that all language centres use. Miromaa is already used widely, but is not sufficiently funded to meet the needs of all its users, with Daryn providing the majority of support directly. There is a sense of urgency about these issues, with people wanting more opportunities to workshop and discuss options, even before the next Puliima conference in August next year. First Languages Australia has a project researching the tools used by language centres, which can inform ongoing work in this space. It was decided that an important outcome of this workshop would be a statement from WANALA calling on the government to acknowledge the importance of Indigenous languages and to support them through adequate funding and legislation. A team is currently working on this statement.

The remainder of the day involved presentations from the other workshops happening over the forum, including Message Sticks, language in Art, Storytelling, and the use of drones to document country – fantastic footage from nearby Litchfield National Park. All the attendees left excited by the inspiring workshop, and looking forward to the next steps.

Volunteering with the Living Archive

This month, we’ve had Sue Weekes from Canberra volunteering with the Living Archive project team. Here’s what she says about her experience.

The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages welcomes interns and volunteers willing to assist with retaining a special collection of the Northern Territory, produced by local people. I recently completed a month long program which was my attempt in helping to provide access to this unusual and unique collection.

The Living Archive has a number of hard copy texts that have been donated to the project for digitisation. In my volunteer role I checked the titles on Trove so the team could decide who to give their copies to. There are copies spread throughout the NT in the CDU library, the NT Library, and Batchelor Institute, and in Canberra in the (the NLA) and AIATSIS. The project team will talk to the NT Library about adding these hard copies to their special collection.

In my other activities, I worked on preparing digitised materials for uploading to eSpace, the CDU digital repository which stores all the digital artefacts in the Living Archive. There were a few collections of books from Papunya and Barunga that had been digitised but needed to be prepared as PDFs and text files with cover images. I also worked on text correction of the text files generated by OCR and compared them to the PDF files – and gave me the opportunity to read and learn some Kriol language which is used in a number of Aboriginal communities across the NT. I also helped prepare for the repatriation of digital files to the communities of origin by creating a list of file numbers and sizes.

The Living Archive is located in the Northern Institute at the Charles Darwin University. I can recommend July as a lovely time of year to visit Darwin, and a chance to escape the cold weather down south. The campus is on the north side of town, but easily accessible, and has a number of activities that a volunteer can attend, such as talks and seminars. There are also other cultural institutions in Darwin that are well worth a visit.

I really enjoyed my time here getting to know Cathy Bow the Project Manager for the Living Archive who was always helpful and instructive, staff of the Northern Institute who were very welcoming and inclusive, and participating in some of their events, in particular the activities held here for NAIDOC week.

Other interns or volunteers could further assist in the Living Archive program, either by working in house or online anywhere in Australia, so that these endangered texts can be edited and uploaded to the Living Archive. Performing this work will ensure access for readers, researchers, and reach other interested audiences Australia-wide.

Arrernte students working on texts

David Moore from the Alice Springs Language Centre writes about how they’re using materials in the Living Archive.

Currently we are working on Ripponlea Institute with the development of Cert III in Applied Language. We need a stack of accessible and useful resources for our students in the various languages.

We looked at some of the Arrernte materials on the Living Archive and found that many of them are virtually unusable. They were written a long time ago, and have missing grammatical markers, older spelling, spelling mistakes and obscure words. This means that we can’t take these texts from the site and use them in class without extensive re-working.

What is needed is texts which enable the learner to progress with access to notes and explanations, guides to how grammar and lexical items are used in the text. It seems that the LAAL texts have that potential if spellings were regularised to conform to current Arrernte spelling, mistakes corrected and guides for the learner attached to current files.

Anwerene_cover

I worked with some Arrernte teachers on a few texts, changing words to standard dictionary spellings and reorganising sentences so that this book can be read more easily in class. You can see one uploaded to LAAL as ‘Other Text’ for the story Anwerne Alheke Yerrampeke.

Over time we would like to re-work more of the texts as a class exercise for Cert III. Using texts in various classes we get a sense of how they can be developed. We could make an assessment task for students to work on creating new texts of enhancing some of the Arrernte books that are currently on LAAL.

Josiah Armstrong and I are working on the text for Akngulye arerte from the Arrernte collection in LAAL. We use the Arrernte Picture Dictionary and the Eastern and Central Arrernte to English dictionary to write current spellings: e.g. ‘othene’ changed to ‘uthene’. We will also make an English translation and glossary. The next stage would be to develop worksheets and activities based around the text.

Working on LAAL texts on whiteboard

Students will learn to read the texts and will read the text to primary classes when they are on VET work placements in schools. 

There are a number of pathways that this course supports: language teacher, translator, writer, illustrator, editor, language research assistant and Language Centre worker….

There is also a lot of potential here for further research, exploring some of the ways in which LAAL can influence language practices.

LAALbot now on Twitter

The wonderful Tim Sherratt has produced a simple guide to creating a Twitter-bot drawing information from Trove and posting it to your Twitter account. Not being a programmer myself, I was curious to know if I could build a bot to post an item from the Living Archive every day.

The whole process probably took only a few hours, from setting up a new Twitter account (https://twitter.com/LAAL_bot), getting a Trove API key, working my way through the instructions on Glitchsome trips up the garden path (switching from a trove-title-bot to a trove-collection-bot) and working out what I did wrong when I got error messages.  My first efforts selected random items from the complete CDU Library repository, so I had to ask for help to narrow the range to just the items in the Living Archive collection, to which Tim gave a helpful response. A little bit of customising the text (from “Another interesting item” to “Check this out from @living_archive!”) and creating a cron-job to tweet daily, and we’re in business!

The LAALbot gives the title and cover image of a book from the Living Archive, and links it to the record in Trove. So you don’t go directly to the item in the Archive, but can get there indirectly via Trove (go down to the green View online button and click on the Freely available link to the CDU repository). Twitter has an unfortunate habit of offering to ‘translate’ from a completely unrelated language, but I haven’t figured out how to switch that off.

If my coding skills went beyond ‘dummies’ level, I’d love to add some detail, for example identifying the language of the item, or adding some other metadata. Any computer scientist or amateur programmer interested in volunteering?

So if you’d like to receive a new book every day from the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, follow @LAAL_bot now on Twitter! Thanks so much to @wragge for making the process possible for novice coders.

Visit to Ngukurr community

Living Archive project manager Cathy Bow reports on her visit to Ngukurr.

It was such a delight to visit Ngukurr and spend a week with the wonderful staff at the Ngukurr Language Centre. I was able to go and meet a number of people in the community and show them the materials in the Living Archive, and talk about how they might be used in community.

As it says on their website:
Ngukurr is a large Aboriginal community in southern Arnhem Land, situated on Ngalakgan land. Formerly a mission, the community population covers 8-10 heritage languages that are all now endangered. The main language spoken in Ngukurr today is Kriol but within the community, traditional languages are held in high esteem. The Ngukurr Language Centre is a small, independent, non-profit organisation. The goal of the Ngukurr Language Centre is to revitalise, document, teach and promote the traditional languages of the community via a range of community-based language programs.

I had wonderful chats with the staff at the language centre, who are all passionate about their languages.

Grant Thompson and Cherry Daniels and I looked at the Marra and Ngandi materials that were produced at the Language Centre and are now available on the Living Archive. They enjoyed reading the stories and looking at the photos. As a senior elder, Cherry was able to give permission for all the materials in those languages to be made public on our website, even those which don’t name the contributors.

Angelina Joshua has her own story to tell about how her passion for Marra language ended up as an award-winning website for SBS called “My Grandmother’s Lingo.” I had the pleasure of watching Angelina teach a language class to a group of year 2 students from Ngukurr Community School – they were completely captivated by her, and were able to put together short sentences in Marra about animals and their own totems.

Dean Austin Bara looked at the materials in Wubuy language from Numbulwar and considered how he could use them in teaching Wubuy at the school. He’s also keen to make his own new materials that will eventually go on the Archive site.

I showed some of the Kriol materials to teachers and others from the school, who enjoyed reading the language that is most widely spoken in Ngukurr. Native speakers of either English or Kriol were able to read the stories, as Kriol is written very phonetically and the stories in the Archive are easy and fun to read.

Talking with a number of people around the community, we found very positive attitudes to Kriol, and everyone we spoke to agreed that non-Indigenous people living in Ngukurr should learn to understand and use Kriol to build better relationships in community.

I was pleased to be able to attend the Ngukurr Festival, where the Language Centre was selling water bottles with the word for ‘water’ in all the local languages. The bottles were filled with local bush medicine, and were especially popular with the ‘munanga’ (non-Indigenous) in the community.

 

NAIDOC week 2017 wrap-up

Each year the National NAIDOC Committee selects a theme for NAIDOC week (first week of July). This year’s theme of “Our Languages Matter” focused on “the importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages” aiming “to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.” (http://www.naidoc.org.au/2017-national-naidoc-theme).

In Darwin it was a busy week for us at the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, as we worked with the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University to organise an event to celebrate Why our languages matter with special guest speaker Dr Waymamba Gaykamaŋu. Over 65 people gathered to hear her speak about Yolŋu language and culture, and after a break for a cup of tea and a chat, other Indigenous researchers and authorities gave their thoughts on why languages matter, including Dr Payi Linda Ford of the Mak Mak Maranungu group (who was also interviewed on ABC radio about the event), Richard Fejo of Larrakia nation, Yirriṉiṉba Dhurrkay of Raki Mala research, Julie Turner from Cherbourg, and Kathy Guthadjaka from Gäwa. We also got to enjoy seeing Gotha’s work with the Wiggles, where she taught Dorothy the Dinosaur some words of Warramiri and they sang a song together, and when Henry the Octopus visited Gäwa. The ABC took an interest in this, and interviewed Gotha on the radio

Payi Linda Ford with Yirriṉiṉba Dhurrkay

Professor Michael Christie introduces Dr Waymamba Gaykamaŋu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other exciting event of the week was the launch of the book “History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory, edited by one of the chief investigators of the Living Archive project, Dr Brian Devlin, along with Dr Samantha Disbray and Nancy Devlin. This important book has just been published by Springer, and was launched by the wonderful Professor Tom Calma, who back in 2014 also launched the Living Archive project in Darwin. This week’s book launch was a lovely celebration with many of the contributing authors in attendance, and others interested in issues surrounding bilingual education. Professor Calma even singled out the final chapter in the book, written by the Living Archive team, about the history and current status of the many books published in Literature Production Centres during the era of bilingual education, and their journey to digital formats on the Living Archive website.

Also this week our project manager Cathy Bow presented her proposal for PhD research into the role of digital language resources in Australian Indigenous languages, which will focus on the Living Archive project as well as the Digital Shell project.

On Saturday afternoon as part of the Darwin Fringe Festival we enjoyed another Treasure Language storytelling event, this time focusing on Indigenous language. After some initial talking about Why Languages Matter, we heard some traditional stories from Magdalen Kelantumama of the Tiwi islands told a creation story. Magdalen is a wonderful storyteller, and there are lots of her stories in the Living Archive, if you’d like to read some other stories like this. Then Yirriṉiṉba Dhurrkay told a story in Dhaŋu language, translated by Sylvia Ŋulpinditj , then an elder from Dhalinbuy told another story, which was accompanied by a buŋgul (traditional dance), which got many members of the audience up and dancing. What an incredible opportunity to experience traditional forms of storytelling and ceremonial activity in a theatrical space. Can’t wait to see more photos soon.

On social media and other media we had a hard time keeping up with all the activities around the NT, much less nationally. I won’t even try to list them all but I do want to highlight just two. There was an article on The Conversation in Warlpiri language, about the significance of the Jukurrpa for Warlpiri people, and ICTV showed a documentary called Talking in the Top End  about last year’s Kriol workshop.

And that was just the events we got to attend, though we were very disappointed to miss out on the launch of Batchelor Institute’s CALL collection, with whom we’ve had a close and fruitful association (check out the collection here), plus the pop-up Arrernte language classroom in Alice Springs, and the NTLibrary’s wiki event, CDU’s NAIDOC Night at the Movies, and even a NAIDOC week march through the streets of Darwin.

Even though NAIDOC week is officially over for the year, there are still a few related events coming up. At CDU’s Northern Institute this week we will hear from Professor Michael Walsh about how “Indigenous languages are good for your health“, and next month our colleagues from CDU’s School of Indigenous Knowledges and Public Policy will hold a language-focused event, and there is some work happening to celebrate some of the Indigenous language champions who have contributed so much over many years. So stay tuned for more celebrations of why Indigenous languages really do matter!

Languages and Education in Indigenous Australia workshop

This week I attended a workshop on Languages and Education in Indigenous Australia, hosted by the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language at ANU. It was an interesting counterpoint to the previous week’s event hosted by First Languages Australia in Adelaide, which focused on the implementation of the draft framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages in the Australian Curriculum and what was happening in various contexts. The Canberra event looked at language acquisition in Indigenous contexts more broadly, including children learning English and contacts languages as well as their own language.

We heard presentations from a number of CoEDL researchers, including work on individual differences in language development, the role of symbolic play in language acquisition, some research into first language acquisition in Papua New Guinea, and the role of prosody and other phonological features in language acquisition in Malay and Barunga Kriol. We heard about projects in communities such as Wadeye and Kukatja where English is not spoken much outside the classroom, and in communities such as Jilkminggan and Gunnedah where traditional languages are no longer strong. We explored some of the challenges inherent in language revival programs, the role of  Indigenous language in the Maths classroom, the effects of otitis media on Indigenous children’s language acquisition, how print literacy may impact learning Standard Australian English, the impact on children in remote Indigenous communities of NAPLAN testing and English language assessment more generally, and the ‘affordances’ of language programs in  the context of the Australian Curriculum. It was also interesting to hear about some contexts that don’t neatly fit into general approaches to language acquisition, such as the complex linguistic ecology of communities where neither Standard English nor traditional languages are spoken or taught, and what that means for contact languages such as Kriol, and literacy practices outside of the school in endangered language communities.

A public event gave opportunities to share about wonderful work on the Warlpiri theme cycle and the investments in education made in Warlpiri communities, then discussion and demonstration of some language apps for Indigenous languages. These included community involvement in the development of Memrise for languages of Tennant Creek, and making short videos using Powtoon for Gamilaraay, some other potentially useful game apps, innovative means of testing phonological awareness in Yolngu Matha, and the incredible work that’s gone into the creation of the world’s first Australian indigenous language app Tjinari in Ngaanyatjarra.

The final afternoon was spent brainstorming the issues raised throughout the previous day and a half, focusing on:

  • where we want education of Indigenous children to be in five years time;
  • how does our existing research fit into that
  • how can we engage with, learn from, and work more closely with policy makers, teachers, principals and other education workers about what research is needed
  • how can our research contribute to teacher professional development
  • how can this research be translated and impact on those who
    • determine policy
    • implement policy, i.e. teachers and principals

CoEDL has a wealth of experience in its researchers and projects, and can play an important role in this space. It was great to network with so many keen and interesting researchers, and we look forward to seeing where this discussion takes us next.

National Indigenous Language Teaching and Employment Forum report

For the last two days I’ve been attending the First Languages Australia National Indigenous Languages Teaching and Employment Forum in Adelaide. Around 100 people gathered from all around Australia to share ideas about this important topic.

The schedule moved from ‘big picture’ to local activities, starting with a presentation from ACARA about the national framework for Indigenous languages in the Australian Curriculum. Having established the framework, it’s now up to the different jurisdictions and schools to work out how to implement it. The framework aims to be inclusive but also deliberately generic, to allow for the many different contexts in which it will be implemented. Examples of implementation will be posted to the ACARA website.

Following a presentation about the function and purpose of First Languages Australia, presentations from each state or territory (except Tasmania) gave an overview of some of the activities, opportunities and challenges in each location. It was noted that the publication of the framework “has been a game changer for Indigenous languages in schools,” and each state is implementing it in different ways according to their populations and existing curricula. The value of language as a tool for social, cultural and economic development, including workforce development was highlighted, as well as the importance of community engagement in language programs.

Presentations about the MATSITI program to get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers in schools, and from various training providers demonstrated the range of programs available for professional development and qualifications for teachers of Indigenous languages. (I was able to share briefly about the Living Archive alongside some of the training courses offered at CDU through ACIKE which focus on Indigenous languages and linguistics.)There are some interesting things happening in Alice Springs, with senior secondary students taking on Translation Tracks through VET in schools, looking at how to translate ‘real world’ documents, and visiting workplaces where language skills are needed. We also heard about the MILE program at Sydney Uni, which uses the resources from students’ own communities, and the Cert IV Teaching an Endangered Aboriginal Language which started in SA but is now available through Muurrbay in NSW. The AnTEP Aṉangu Tertiary Education Program from the APY lands, and the Gumbaynggir tutors program, opportunities through VACL, all reflected one participant’s comments “it’s not just language we’re teaching, it’s all about culture, our ancestors, our land, all together.”

On the second morning, we heard from school programs doing interesting and important things, and some of the challenges they face. Longstanding programs such as mother tongue education in the APY Lands, newer ones such as the Lurra program in several languages in Maningrida (where the point was made that learning in language gave the children a chance to be successful where they might struggle in English), Warlpiri and Anmatyerr in TiTree, efforts in Broome to create 20 fluent speakers of Yawuru in the next five years, Arrernte teching in Ltyentye Apurte, the strong history of language at Yipirinya School, and the challenges facing Indigenous language teachers in WA.

What emerged throughout the program was a series of ‘themes’ which were then explored in smaller groups, and issues were identified for each theme. In the final workshop, small groups aimed to write ‘one sentence’ which would sum up the situation and give focus to what is required. Key questions were addressed such as:

  • who will teach these languages?
  • who will fund the great ideas?
  • how can teachers be recognised and supported when their numbers are so small?

The value of events such as this is in bringing together groups of people with similar interests but working in very different contexts. The specifics are very diverse, but the challenges are just as vast. From languages with no speakers being revived from documents, to highly multilingual communities struggling to learn via English, the common thread was that each community was committed to passing on their knowledge to the next generation.

Besides the important issues discussed from the front, the support and encouragement felt among all attendees was very encouraging. In the many conversations during breaks, connections were renewed, relationships created, ideas shared, notes compared, resources shown, contact details swapped, stories told, and support demonstrated. People involve in teaching Indigenous languages can sometimes feel isolated and disconnected from support networks, so opportunities such as this are invaluable for connecting people and reminding everyone that they’re not alone, and that what they’re doing is important and valuable.

Thanks to Faith and the staff at First Languages Australia for bringing this group together, and to Karina and Simone for keeping it moving, and to everyone for being willing to share and support.

Katherine Language Centre audit

KRALC_signThe Katherine Regional Aboriginal Language Centre was a hub of linguistic activity from 1991 to 2010. Run by the Diwurruwurru-jaru Aboriginal Corporation, it served all the Indigenous languages of the Katherine region, creating resources and running teaching programs in schools.  All the materials in the library have been locked away since the centre closed in 2010, under the auspices of Mimi Arts, and last week a team from CDU (Cathy Bow and Trish Joy) and Western Sydney University (Sarah Cutfield) had the opportunity to audit the collection for archiving purposes.

The books and videos and other items on the shelves were stored in good order, but the rest of the room had become a bit of a dumping ground for boxes of paperwork and random AV equipment, so our first job was to clear that out.

before

Trish looking for treasures

admin_boxes

Plenty of admin paperwork

When we were able to access the bookshelves and two compactus units containing the resources, we found them in very good order. Everything was catalogued and stored in alphabetical order on the shelves. On one wall was shelves of video materials (both VHS and DVD), one compactus had text materials of languages of the region (separated into ‘Kriol’, ‘Eastside’ and ‘Westside’), and the other compactus had multimedia resources (cassettes, CDs, DVDs, minidisks, DV tapes, etc), and a great collection of language and linguistic resources for Aboriginal languages more widely, including languages of other regions, reference materials, etc.

Gurindji_shelf

Sample shelf of Gurindji materials

shelves

Shelf of multimedia materials

Catalogue

Sarah opening the catalogue

There was a Mac G4 computer which we weren’t sure would even switch on. Fortunately it did, and contained a catalogue of materials, but we couldn’t export it or find any way to extract the data, so that’s been taken back to Darwin to see if we can do it there. The library catalogue will be very useful to cross-check with what we found, and help us identify what material may already exist in digital form.

We created spreadsheets to record basic metadata for all the items we found and filled them out over  the next few days. Trish listed over 300 video materials in 30 languages, Cathy documented 560 text materials in 35 languages, and Sarah (who used to work in the language centre) had the job of working through boxes of ‘uncatalogued’ or ‘miscellaneous’ materials – some of which needed language identification.

It’s a fantastic collection of materials, including resources produced by the Language Centre itself (readers, story books, teaching resources, etc), plus reference materials (grammars, dictionaries, academic articles), video footage of local events, recordings of old people who have now passed away, collections of photos, reports, flashcards, games – all incredibly valuable for languages which have few speakers left.

Once we collate all our lists and cross-check with the catalogue, the next step is to identify what materials have already been digitised (or were born digital), to help us prioritise what materials still need to be digitised. Perhaps some of the linguists and language workers who used to work there have kept digital copies of some materials that they could repatriate? Perhaps the G4 computer has some useful files on it? We know there are some materials digitised in the Living Archive collection, and AIATSIS may have some also. (Please contact us if you have or know where we can find any digital files of materials produced at the Centre.)

Dennis

Mimi Arts manager Dennis Stokes

Special thanks to the lovely Dennis Stokes, manager of Mimi Arts, who made us very welcome in our task, and has exciting plans to reopen the Language Centre and continue the valuable work it did in the past. We also acknowledge Barbara Ambjerg Pedersen, the former manager, who kept the materials safe and in good conditions for years while the centre was not functioning. Also thanks to Caroline Jones from CoEDL for initiating the process of auditing the materials, and to Trish and Sarah for doing the hard yards auditing all those precious materials.

Unlocking a mystery

Decades after many of the language materials created at Gunbalanya were sent to the tip (only to be rescued by the local missionary and later sent to the Living Archive), a locked filing cabinet in the school (with no sign of a key) remained. Sue Reaburn was present at its unlocking and shared the story and photos with us.

Although no one knew what the filing cabinet contained, it was known to contain treasures of the past. To be sure it contained nothing secret or sacred, Joseph, an elder, took each drawer down the back of the room and systematically checked through it, removing anything he thought was inappropriate for full public viewing.

Among the things it contained was copies of old mission records, discs of images from the past with catalogues, old books some of them very rare related to Gunbalanya. While much of it had been through a flood, that which was considered worthy of preserving digitally was bought back to Darwin to be digitised either by LAAL or the Aboriginal Education Heritage Program. Digital copies of everything are being returned to the community, the final resting place of the important historical material is still being decided by the Gunbalanya School Council.

Gunbalanya_filing_cabinet (2)  Gunbalanya_filing_cabinet (4)

Gunbalanya_filing_cabinet (3) Gunbalanya_filing_cabinet (5)