Writing, words and written work

Posts tagged ‘Aboriginal’

Lost to History

Nine-year-old John Hudson narrowly escaped death by hanging, for stealing a few household items, to become the youngest convict at the time of sentencing and one of thirty-four children to arrive in Sydney on the First Fleet. In 1788 when John, now thirteen, arrived in Australia along with more than 700 other felons, approximately 250 Aboriginal languages each with different dialects reverberated across our vast continent.

Along with the convicts and their jailers, the First Fleet brought a new language to the land; a language that evolved into Australian English. It is a rich language enhanced by colloquialisms, such as ‘a kangaroo loose in the top paddock’. Australian English developed under the influence of the convicts giving us words like ‘fair dinkum’, ‘chook’ and ‘brumby’, as well as Aboriginal languages which gave us words such as ‘budgerigar’, ‘yabber’ and ‘billabong’ .

For me, it is a tragedy that the original languages of the land are no longer spoken and sung across the continent. Modern Australia would be far more auroral if it were ablaze with the languages of the many Aboriginal tribes of Ancient Australia.

When my two young nieces, who are mixed-race Aboriginal girls, recently stayed with me for a weekend, the seven-year-old and I explored the Italian language together. (I am learning Italian as an adult and she is learning it at school.) As we enjoyed making this connection through a foreign language, I experienced a sense of sadness that we weren’t also able to enjoy exploring the language of her Aboriginal ancestors. From the whitefella side of her family (and from the wider community) she has inherited and learned the language of English. But the language of the blackfella side of her family has disappeared.

Just as Aboriginal languages were lost to history, so too was young John Hudson. The last known record of him is that on 15 February 1791, he received 50 lashes ‘for been out of his hutt after nine oClock.’

It occurred to me that perhaps my nieces and nephews, through the loss of the language of their Aboriginal ancestors, have also lost a connection to ancestral memories. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a heartbreaking possibility.

As my mother used to say, ‘it’s no use crying over spilt milk’ but I can’t help imagining an Australia where all Australians grow up speaking the local Aboriginal language as their second (or even first) language. Instead of struggling with the mandatory and irrelevant French I studied at school, I could have learned from the Kurnai language of my local area that the pelican is called ‘boorun’ and the Southern Cross is known as ‘Ngooran’. Speaking their language would have been a powerful way to demonstrate respect for the Kurnai people, as well as creating deeper bonds between the whitefella tribe and the blackfella tribe. Colonialism robbed not only Aboriginal Australians but all Australians, of the opportunity to know the first languages of our homeland.

It’s long been a dream of mine to see Aboriginal languages taught in schools as a mainstream subject for ALL students. I thought it was an impossible dream but it’s exciting to know that more is being done now by the Education Department and other agencies to revive and teach Aboriginal languages. Some schools have already implemented Aboriginal language instruction. So there is hope for my dream to be realised.

And perhaps one day, maybe when a descendant is researching their family history, John Hudson’s story will also be dragged out of the depths of history.

Glossary:

billabong: a dry section of a river that fills when the river overflows

brumby: a wild horse

budgerigar: a small parrot

chook: a hen

kangaroo loose in the top paddock: to be mentally deficient

Kurnai: title of the tribe that inhabited Gippsland

yabber: to chat or rabbit on

References:

Robert Holden, Orphans of History: The Forgotten Children of the First Fleet, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1999

First Fleet Fellowship Victoria Inc.

Thomas Keneally, A Commonwealth of Thieves, Anchor Books, New York, 2007

https://firstfleetfellowship.org.au/convicts/john-hudson/

Kurnai Language Glossary from Wurruk by Vaughan Nikitin

 

Wilhelmina Woylie: the little stick carrier

Wilhelmina Woylie is a children’s ebook designed to be read on tablets, smart phones and computers with beautiful illustrations by Katie Stewart. It tells the story of a little woylie who goes out one night to fetch sticks for her nest, unaware of the danger that lurks at every corner.

Please note: You might like to read the book before reading this blog in full as it contains plot spoilers. Download here.

Although the story is primarily for children’s entertainment, it can also be used for learning. Just as the stories used by the Australian Aboriginal people have been used for thousands of years as teaching tools, so can the story of Wilhelmina Woylie.

On one level, children learn about woylies (aka brush-tailed bettongs) in their natural habitat, the danger feral cats pose to woylies and other native species, and they learn about other Australian animals as well as endangered species.

On another level, the story of Wilhelmina Woylie can open up a discussion about the threat of bullies. In the story, Wilhelmina handles the feral cat in the only way she can. She uses sticks to frighten the cat because there is nothing else she can do. If the cat catches her, she will die and so will her baby in the nest because there will be no-one to feed it. She doesn’t run because she knows the cat will be much faster.

Parents and carers can, if they wish, discuss the best way to deal with bullies in the playground. Should we use sticks? What is a better way for children to react if they are threatened by a bully?

Other possible issues for discussion include the importance of caring for the habitat of animals, the natural environment,  understanding nocturnal animals (the emu is not nocturnal – he just happened to get hungry that night) and the importance of small animals.

The book is designed to be read aloud and shared between an adult and a child. There are different ways of approaching the reading of the story depending on the age and needs of the child. In general, read the story using the main text, the pop-up texts and the pictures.  However, for very young children (e.g. under the age of two) you can just use the pictures without reading any text at all. Alternatively, you could just use the text pop-ups and pictures without reading the main text. For other children, you might like to encourage them to read repeated words and phrases – but only if that is something the child enjoys doing. The most important thing is that the reading of the story is a fun shared activity.

My purpose in writing Wilhelmina Woylie  is to raise funds for FNPW (Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife), an organisation set up to protect Australia’s native species and ecosystems. When you read the story, I hope it brings a smile to your face knowing that your purchase of the book has helped endangered wildlife like the little woylie.

Download a copy here.

Until next time…

JB 🙂

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