Voice over Sydney: Over 250 Indigenous Australian language groups covered the continent at the time of European settlement in 1788. Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass away.
Voice over Sydney: Language is more than just a means to communicate, it is an essential characteristic unique to people and communities, and plays a central role in a sense of identity. It is also the vehicle within which much cultural knowledge such as songs, bush tucker and traditional medicine, is stored.
Voice over Sydney: European Contact
From the earliest days of European contact there was often an assumption that Indigenous Australian languages were of less value than English and this view soon hardened into government policy, which was reinforced through education and employment practices. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were discouraged from speaking their languages and made to feel ashamed of using them in public.
Eventually the link between generations of speakers was broken, so that many children had little or no knowledge of their traditional languages. Their parents were partial speakers and their grandparents were the remaining few speakers of a language that, as the Elders, they alone could pass down to the next generation.
Voice over Sydney: Aboriginal Language Preservation
Today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia are speaking out about the need to protect, preserve and strengthen traditional languages. There is currently a wave of activity, with people in many communities working to learn more about their language, and to ensure they are passed on to the next generation before it is too late.
School-based language programs are a popular activity for language preservation and revival. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people responding to the Second National Indigenous Languages Survey said they believe traditional languages should be taught in schools and that the use of traditional languages in schools helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to succeed.