Indigenous language Gamilaraay saved through dance and music

Just to spark that interest, because these kids are absorbing information and it’s a great time to plant that seed of interest.

There are dire predictions for the future of Indigenous languages in Australia, with estimates from UNESCO suggesting they could be completely wiped out by 2050.

Qualified teachers of these languages are hard to find, but artists believe the languages can be kept alive through the use of songs, dances and children’s games.

Buddy Hippi proudly sings the songs of his people, the Gomeroi of northern NSW and southern Queensland in a bid to save them.

He believes song and dance are the most powerful Indigenous education tools.

“I didn’t really have much knowledge, so to speak, back when I was growing up in Tamworth. But I could always feel that I was connected to our country and our people,” he said.

“Growing up, [the language] wasn’t there for me so I know how important it is.

UNESCO’s language atlas categorises the vast majority of Indigenous languages as ‘vulnerable’ or ‘critically endangered’.

Buddy Hippi felt compelled to do something about it.

Over the past few years he has been on a journey of rediscovery.

He has learned to speak the language of the Gomeroi people, Gamilaraay. He also became a traditional dance teacher.

“So basically providing [what] I like to call an edu-cultural healing practice,” he said.

“It’s about educating ourselves through our culture and using that as a foundation to pass on our song stories and law. In particular to the young ‘gyanjuuls’, which are the children.”

After school, Cherise Hinch and Laporsha Dennison paint their faces and armed with music clapsticks are learning the dhinawan, or emu dance.

“It’s good to come back now to our community here in Boggabilla and Toomelah and pass that on to our kids,” Mr Hippi said.

“We struggled to get kids to dance with us at the start, but to see now 15-30 kids painted up and being proud of who they are is a big difference, and it is working.”

Teaching Gamilaraay through song

Mr Hippi is not the only one trying to preserve the Indigenous languages of the region.

Artist Simon Mellor is working with Indigenous elders in Armidale and Moree to also learn the local tongue Gamilaraay.

Mr Mellor’s latest project took him to Boggabilla, a small community near the Queensland border.

“I tend to focus on stuff they know so I wrote this song called “riding the bus to school” which is significant part of their day. And we learn a lot of animal names,” he said.

Suitably qualified Indigenous language teachers are hard to find and state governments is struggling to meet demand.

In October this year, the NSW Government enacted the Aboriginal Languages Bill to help promote and preserve languages.

“I’m not a language teacher, what I can do is spark that interest in those children to learn their language,” he said.

Mr Mellor works with his partner Irene Lemon in Armidale where they have access to the smart region incubator — a NSW Department of Industry funded hub for businesses to meet with people who can help roll out their language program.

Mr Mellor has recorded songs with Indigenous children, singing mixed English and Gamilaraay songs which they are selling online.

Some of the proceeds will go towards expanding language programs to regional preschools.

“Just to spark that interest, because these kids are absorbing information and it’s a great time to plant that seed of interest,” he said.

This story first appeared on ABC news online:

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