Reviving Aboriginal language of South Coast

REVIVAL: Chelsy Atkins and the Koori pupils sing their language song at last month’s NAIDOC assembly at Eden Public School.
REVIVAL: Chelsy Atkins and the Koori pupils sing their language song at last month’s NAIDOC assembly at Eden Public School.

A short documentary about the revival of South Coast Aboriginal language has just been released on ABC Open. Producer Vanessa Milton worked with the Eden community over 12 months to record the process of reviving language from sound recordings.

It is the culmination of a painstaking language revitalisation project that began more than 10 years ago. Elder Ossie Cruse said the group wanted to revive a common language that was used from Eden to La Perouse.

In 2006, Ossie and Beryl Cruse, Shirley Aldridge and Liddy Stewart, together with project coordinator Sue Norman, began meeting with elders along the South Coast to record interviews and find out how much language was still spoken.

For four years they travelled the coast from Bomaderry to Eden, interviewing 37 elders to preserve their knowledge of language and culture. This was later added to from recordings made on the South Coast in the 1960s.

They built a database of words using the Miromaa database, developed in Australia for communities working to revitalise their traditional languages.

Another two years were spent building an audio dictionary, selecting words and verifying their pronunciation and spelling in consultation with members of the Koori community in Eden.

The group then developed a method and resources to teach the language – from flash cards and games, to a workbook and a song.

The two main aims of the process were to respect the sources of the words and to spread the knowledge so people can speak and understand the language – to bring it to life.

One of the first class activities was for students and teachers to give themselves a name in language.

Up to 17 members of the Eden community have been involved in teaching Koori students at Eden Public School since the beginning of this year. The pupils performed the language song “Buru Boori” at the school’s NAIDOC assembly last month.

The Eden Aboriginal community is a resettlement community – South Coast tribes were heavily impacted by colonisation, and people travelled up and down the coast for work, so the traditional languages have become mixed.

But even before colonisation, a trade language would have been shared by the different tribes of the South Coast, and this is what the language group has tried to capture.

In May 2017, elders from the language group visited the original interviewees and their families in Cobargo, Wallaga Lake, Ulladulla, Nowra, Bomaderry, Sanctuary Point, and Wreck Bay to give them a copy of their recordings, and the audio dictionary and workbook they contributed to.

This story was filmed over 12 months at the Keeping Place at Jigamy, Eden Marine High School and Eden Public School.

Funding support came from the Our Languages Our Way program of NSW Aboriginal Affairs.


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