Here’s an idea. What if all Australian children were taught some of the local Indigenous language at school?
My mind races to the difficulties of this task. Firstly, there is the fact that there are over two hundred Indigenous languages and dialects. So how would we decide what to teach and where? I think about where we would find the teachers for this subject and then how we could afford to pay them?
I can’t see where Indigenous language and culture would fit in an already full school curriculum or who would do the administration. I think about the bureaucracy involved in making changes to the education system and it all seems much too hard.
I understand that Aboriginal languages are closely tied to the land and cultures of the different areas of Australia. So maybe our Indigenous people want to keep their languages to themselves. I am quite possibly on the wrong track altogether.
But then I imagine my children coming home from school with some Aboriginal words in their minds and on their tongues. I picture them telling me about the original culture of our area and the dreaming stories and in my imaginary scenario, this just seems so right.
I can see Indigenous children in our schools being very proud of their languages and their stories and beliefs and excelling in this subject.
I think about the respect and understanding this could generate for our original people and it makes my heart sing. We could come to understand the different conventions of Aboriginal language use and learn what is considered polite or otherwise in Aboriginal culture.
For many years I studied French in school and onwards at university. This has given me a connection with French people wherever I go and an affinity with all things French. It would be wonderful if our children had the opportunity to learn some Aboriginal phrases and words at school and thus create this same sort of connection and understanding with Indigenous Australians.
I think about all we could learn about the history of our country, the environment, local food sources and the arts if we listened to the original inhabitants of Australia. I wonder what it would be like if we could communicate effectively and find the bridge between our cultures. Steps are being taken in the right direction and language could play a big part in this connection.
The majority of Aboriginal languages have ceased to exist over these last two hundred years or so of white settlement and many others are in danger of disappearing as well. The implications of this on Indigenous life in our country are huge and this affects all of us as Australians. We are losing links to an ancient culture and all the riches that this culture contains.
It would be wonderful to cultivate stronger friendships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The ability just to say “G’day” in a local tongue could melt away perceived differences and allow these kinds of connections to take place.
It is hard to know how this idea will be met by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians or how it would manifest on such a large scale. This is not an original idea as some schools in the Northern Territory do already teach the local language to their students. Dale Kerwin, an academic from Griffith University, has called for Aboriginal language to be taught at schools in Brisbane. But what I am imagining is a much more widespread teaching of Indigenous languages and culture to all Australian children and I thought this might be an idea worth sharing.