Tag Archives: launch

The Conversation article 7 April 2014

Some vital signs for Aboriginal languages

By Michael Christie, Charles Darwin University; Brian Devlin, Charles Darwin University, and Cathy Bow, Charles Darwin University

Attitudes and policies relating to Australian Indigenous languages are in a state of flux. The Northern Territory government is reportedly again aiming to banish Aboriginal languages from the classroom.

But there’s good news too: the Australian Research Council has approved a second round of funding for the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages, which is being launched today in Darwin.

Building the archive

The Living Archive is a digital collection of materials in Australian Indigenous languages from around the Northern Territory. Most of the current collection was produced by Literature Production Centres at schools with bilingual programs over several decades from 1973.

The resources housed in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages include educational materials for children.
Cathy Bow/Living Archive of Australian Languages

The beautifully illustrated books include stories of creation, contact history, traditional practices, cautionary tales, humorous incidents in daily life, environmental knowledge, bush medicine, pedagogical readers, and many other genres. They contain fine examples of people transforming high oral literature into written literature.

With the demise of bilingual education, the books faced an uncertain future. In some cases they had been carefully catalogued and stored in the schools; in others they were carelessly thrown into dusty storerooms. In the worst cases, boxes of books had already been destroyed.

Visits to the communities by project staff involved sorting through piles of dusty books, identifying the best copies for scanning, and talking with community members about the project.

The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages is a resource that will help all Australians better understand our linguistic heritage.
Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages

Each contributor (author, illustrator, translator, etc) named in a book was sought out (or family members of those who had passed away) and invited to give permission for their materials to be digitised and uploaded to a public website. Most people were pleased to see these resources being valued and given a new life in the digital environment.

The second stage, now underway with additional partners, aims to expand the collection beyond its bilingual education origins to uncover other texts in endangered NT languages, as well as engaging community members, academics and schools in using and enhancing the collection.

The area covered by the archive.
Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages

Designed in part as academic research infrastructure, the Living Archive’s overarching aim is the mobilisation of language work intergenerationally and interculturally. It will reach schools, remote communities, and beyond – and reopen questions about the role of Australian languages in our wider collective Australian life.

Access to online vernacular language materials is becoming easier – and the Living Archive will be a valuable addition to resources for educators. The Australian Curriculum framework explicitly encourages the use of such materials in educational settings.

In spite of this, the latest report to the NT government recommends an English-only approach in bush schools. This flies in the face of research pointing to the effectiveness of planned and informed use of home language and English in the classroom in developing listening, speaking, reading and writing of both home language and English.

While waiting for the next policy decision, community-level support for vernacular languages in schools continues.

The policies that oppose giving home languages a central place in the education of young speakers look like a reaction to top-down pressure to improve the English literacy and numeracy results of young children in very remote Aboriginal communities on the national testing regime (NAPLAN).

Accelerating the development of these competencies seems to trump the benefits of mother-tongue education every time. But at what cost?

Keeping languages active

The launch of the Living Archive, with its focus on collaborations between researchers and language owners, sheds light on the efforts being undertaken in many places to keep languages alive for future generations.

Shelves of documents from the Yirrkala community in north-east Arnhem land.
Cathy Bow/Charles Darwin University

The archive helps us understand how these languages reflect and produce a uniquely Australian knowledge of our history, our place, our relation to the land, our understanding of environments and seasons, the work for example of fire ecology, and our health in body and spirit. English has not evolved to make and do Australian life in the way Australian languages have.

As more and more obscure texts in endangered languages are identified and uploaded to the archive, people in Australia and beyond can continue to engage with this rich cultural heritage.
Visit the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages here.

The Conversation

Michael Christie receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Dr Brian Devlin works for Charles Darwin University, which is a partner in the Living Archive Project, funded by the Australian Research Council. He is a member of the Future Party (http://futureparty.org.au/) and the National Tertiary Education Union. He occasionally volunteers some of his time to the Friends of Bilingual Learning (http://www.fobl.net.au/), the Australian Human Rights Commission and UNESCO.

Cathy Bow receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Canberra launch

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.