Aboriginal languages preserved in print

Co-author Bernadette Duncan (centre) with her sister Karlie Duncan on the left, and her daughter Karlene Duncan (right).
Co-author Bernadette Duncan (centre) with her sister Karlie Duncan on the left, and her daughter Karlene Duncan (right).

BERNADETTE Duncan seemed visibly moved at last week’s launch of Speaking Our Way: A collection of Aboriginal languages of the Northern Tablelands of NSW.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Bernadette said.

“This is something I didn’t think I’d ever be involved in, and it’s because of Harry that I’ve been included in this project.”

Bernadette is a linguist and expert in the three dialects of her native Kamilaroi language.

She was employed by Northern Tablelands Local Land Services (LLS) in 2014 to assist Aboriginal elder and LLS senior officer Harry White in his 40-year personal endeavour to collect and collate the Aboriginal languages of the Northern Tablelands.

The book is a dense, colourful encyclopaedia of 15 regional languages, and dotted through with artwork and anecdotes. Harry was unwell and was not present on Tuesday, but the Inverell RSM Hall hummed with interest for the groundbreaking project published by the LLS.

Anaiwan Local Land Council chief executive officer and ARAG chairman Greg Livermore spoke of the deep significance of Aboriginal language.

“Language, or lingo, is as culturally important as land or water, and for too long, language has been missing from the local landscape,” he said.

“And to have language revived and spoken on country here, will be a very powerful moment in our history.

“To have that sense of belonging, identity and purpose restored through language can only be a positive for our people in moving forward.”

Bernadette felt the book would be a wonderful resource for the community.

“I think it will encourage people to come on board, to actually work the language.”

She said there were many Aboriginal people in community who had the desire to revive language who felt unsure of the way.

“With the indigenous people, that’s a natural thing, they’ll want to learn more, but a lot of people don’t know where, or how,” she said.

“So it’s up to the people who are doing the language work to get it out in the community, encourage people to work language, to find out how, to be aware how to be involved. It’s very contentious, but also very rewarding. Kids just love culture and language.”

The book will soon be available from Northern Tablelands Local Land Service.