9 November 2023

Big win for Cape York's Aboriginal languages preservation

| Chisa Hasegawa
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Aboriginal language song-writing session.

The Pama Language Centre works to revitalise Indigenous languages of the Cape York region. Photo: Pama Language Centre.

The Pama Language Centre recently received the John Oxley Library Community History Award for their efforts in preserving traditional Aboriginal languages in Cape York.

The John Oxley Library Community History Award celebrates outstanding contributions by community organisations in the preservation, recording and sharing of Queensland history. Each year, the successful recipient receives $5000 to help continue their work.

“We use art, dance, music, storytelling, writing and formal education to help revitalise these languages,” Pama Language Centre coordinator Xavier Barker said.

He said the methodology depends on the community, how much language was already preserved, and who could pass it down.

“In communities like Kowanyama and New Mapoon, we really only have the Elders,” he explained.

“In other communities like Hope Vale, the kids are speaking it and the grandparents are, but we’ve got that missing generation in between.”

“We work on bridging that gap and kick-starting intergenerational transmission of the language,” he said.

Tamara Pearson, a Hope Vale woman, does freelance choreography and dance work with Pama Language Centre to preserve the local language.

“I work a lot with the Hope Vale school kids in preserving language through song and dance,” she explained.

Dance pose photography on Country.

Choreographer Tamara Pearson uses dance as a medium of preserving language. Photo: Colyn Huber.

She said they researched old dreamtime stories, which were then animated and translated into the local Guugu Yimithirr language for the kids to perform to.

“They’re actually dancing to their own language and to songs from their community, and they learn to sing the songs in language as well.”

She recounted the history of Hope Vale – of the land being stolen and people being taken as prisoners of war – to past generations that were able to return and rebuild the community now known as Hope Vale.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have our culture and our language, and we’re very lucky that we still have our language,” she said.

“Pama Language is a big part of the preservation of this traditional knowledge.”

Mr Barker said it was quite a surprise to be nominated for the award because the Pama Language Centre’s work is not widely known.

“We were a little surprised that somebody had noticed what we’re doing and decided to recognise us for it,” he said.

“We don’t know who nominated us, but it was a very pleasant surprise.”

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