Bringing the Gamilaraay language back from the brink

10 January 2018

"It's our language and it's very important to get people speaking it again.

Priscilla Strasek is an Indigenous Gamilaraay Yuwaalaraay woman from Lightning Ridge in New South Wales who is on a mission to help bring the native language of her people - Gamilaraay - back from the brink of extinction.

Gamilaraay is an Indigenous Australian language from the mid-northwest of NSW and is currently the focus of a regeneration project.

Ms Strasek is one of more than 15 students who have enrolled in an intensive summer course teaching the Gamilaraay language at the inaugural Indigenous Language Summer School co-sponsored by The Australian National University (ANU).

She hopes to take what she learns in the course to help teach others back in her own community.

"It's our language and it's very important to get people speaking it again," Ms Strasek said.

"I have been involved with Gamilaraay language for many years and am extremely excited to have an opportunity to participate in this course and have it contribute towards my degree."

The course is one of very few Indigenous language programs run at university level in Australia. Dr John Giacon of the ANU School of Literature Languages and Linguistics has been teaching Gamilaraay since 2006.

Dr Giacon's passion for Indigenous language started in the remote NSW community of Walgett where he did high school relief teaching and was dismayed by how few Indigenous students would progress through to Year 12.

His commitment to helping prevent the Gamilaraay language from dying out helped him win the 2016 Patji-Dawes Award - Australia's top honour for language teaching.

He said he wants to see a stronger focus on a well-planned approach to restoring Indigenous languages, starting with an increased focus on training a new generation of language teachers.

"This is a complex language, as complex as any other language," Dr Giacon said.

"People want to speak Gamilaraay again and that's starting to happen. It's spoken now more than it was 20 years ago.

"When people speak their language they are prouder and more resilient. It affects many aspects of their lives."

The inaugural 2018 Australian Indigenous Languages Summer School running from Monday 8 January and run for two weeks.

In July ANU will host a major forum on national Indigenous policies and governance, taking in the lessons from First Nations around the world and including participation from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Federal politicians.

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