The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages was officially launched in Canberra on Thursday March 6, 2014, by the Honourable Dr Sharman Stone, Federal member for Murray. (Launches in Darwin and Alice Springs are also being arranged).
Around 80-100 people gathered at the Law Link theatre at ANU for the event, which featured a public lecture by Professor Michael Christie, and a speech from Dr Stone. Michael, who works at the Northern Institute in Charles Darwin University, is one of the chief investigators of the Living Archive project.
Michael’s lecture was introduced by the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Student Experience at ANU, Professor Richard Baker, who said how much he had valued the article “Yolngu metaphors for learning”, which Michael had co-authored with Raymattja Marika-Mununggiritj in 1995. In his presentation, Michael reflected on his 40 years experience with Aboriginal languages, literatures and technologies in the Northern Territory. He described the three phases of bilingual education, from his early days at Milingimbi in the 1970s, beginning with early investment in Indigenous and English literacy, then moving to the phase of Aboriginalisation, where local knowledges and pedagogies found their place in the curriculum. The current phase involves both disengagement and re-engagement, with the Living Archive being a tangible result of both. Michael’s talk was illustrated by photos from his ten years at Milingimbi—including ones of him as a bearded young man in a jeep—as well as the decade he spent at Yirrkala, plus images of the many books produced in bilingual education programs and later digitised for the Living Archive collection.
Following the lecture and questions, the Dean of ANU’s College of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Toni Makkai, spoke of the value of universities in projects such as the Living Archive, the importance of collaboration across universities, and the significance of funding from the Australian Research Council for projects such as this.
Professor Makkai then introduced Dr Stone, and invited her to to launch the archive. Dr Stone referred to her role as deputy chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Parliamentary inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities. She spoke of her anthropological research and her engagement with Indigenous people in her own electorate in Victoria, where she had introduced a language program for prisoners. She spoke warmly about the value of Indigenous languages to engender an increased sense of self, an understanding of kinship systems and natural resource management, and noted the importance of preserving materials such as those included in the archive for current and future generations of Indigenous people.
The audience included a number of linguists, as the event coincided with both a workshop on Australian languages in contact since colonisation and the 13th Australian Languages Workshop, held at ANU in Canberra and its coastal campus at Kioloa. Guests were also invited to view and purchase the 32-page booklet produced to accompany the archive, giving some background and context to the materials included on the website. Posters and brochures were also available, with many people admiring the colourful map which displays both languages and locations, and which is a key part of the website’s interactive interface.
The Living Archive team – chief investigators Professor Michael Christie, Doctor Brian Devlin (both from Charles Darwin University), Professor Jane Simpson (Australian National University), along with project manager Cathy Bow, sincerely thank all those who have participated in the project and helped to arrange the launch.