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Language lessons underway at Yiramalay

Kaylene Marr teaching language under the Ngiyali tree

In August 2018, the International Year of Indigenous Languages was celebrated at Yiramalay with an Indigenous Languages Forum involving guest speakers, students, families and guardians from all parts of Australia. With more than 40 different language groups present, the forum was a great success and a celebration of Aboriginal language and culture. Patsy Bedford, Bunuba Elder and Chair of the Kimberley Languages Resource Centre, spoke from the heart about the importance of preserving language and culture, and the need to have Bunuba taught at Yiramalay.

The forum really sharpened our focus on the importance of language and culture in the classroom. It highlighted how learning Bunuba language supports the reconciliation process and strengthens the school’s philosophy of ‘Many Cultures, One Community’. The most significant lesson learned at the Forum was the importance of listening to each other’s stories and respecting and appreciating each other’s cultures as the first of many small steps.

In August 2021, we began our Bunuba Language lessons, led by Traditional Owner and Cultural and Community Advisor, Kaylene Marr and Cultural Program Assistant, Marilyn Oscar, along with Indigenous Senior Mentor Stanley Shaw and supported by Student Wellbeing Coordinator, Kym Oakley. Whether in the Biliga Mayaru* Learning Centre or under the Ngiyali trees, the whole school gathers each morning to learn and practise Bunuba language. These lessons have encouraged our multi-lingual students who join us to begin sharing their language with others. Staff and students in Melbourne can join the sessions via digital streaming platforms.

Greetings among the community are no longer ‘Good morning’ but ‘Julungurra Maaningarri’. When you hear, speak, and understand language, hidden worlds start to become visible, and this facilitates a greater sense of pride and a strengthening of spirit and culture.

Kym shares her personal experience of hearing language: ‘For me, when I hear language that talks about the environment or helps to describe the season, it’s like I am looking at that country through a different lens, and it’s calming.’

*Bunuba for ‘Gathering Place’

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