‘The embodiment of everything’: Preserving the language of Indigenous Victorians

Mandy Nicholson was in her early 20s when she found a book containing singular Woiwurrung words. It was the first time the Wurundjeri woman had seen her traditional language in print and it became, she says, the beginning of her “language journey”.

It was a bumpy start. Her first attempts to learn those words were “totally wrong”.

“I tried my best to learn how to say them, but I had no idea. I was reading it the English way,” she says.

“Looking back, I was totally wrong in what I was doing. As years went by I got more and more involved in First Language education, because I wanted to learn how to say these words properly, how to use Woiwurrung in context today rather than like an ancient language only used in the past.”

The restoration and preservation of Indigenous languages has attracted considerable popular interest over the past two decades. Great effort – although too often under-resourced – has gone into reawakening many threatened First Languages after they have sat dormant for a century or more.

Community language centres have appeared, as have school programs, workshops and camps; there have been several well-received films with dialogue entirely in traditional “lingo”; and requests are regularly submitted to language holders for permission and assistance to use traditional local words for everything from new buildings to new boats, clothes labels to reconciliation action plans.

Read more: The Age

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