I was driving home from a friends house and I had the pleasure of listening to the Triple J live music section. One of the bands featured was the new and up and coming Black Magic. It’s a hip hop group with some traditional music elements mixed in as well. What really stood out for me with this group is that a lot of the lyrics were in a native Australian dialect. The crowd loved it and the group had fantastic energy. I noticed however that audience interaction always became stronger when the chorus was in English.
It was almost a perfect example of people participating in the worlds oldest culture but, at the same time, not having any real knowledge about it. I am also guilty of this. It made me think. Why on earth can I say my name in Japanese (boku wa William desu) and that I love cats in french (j’dore le chat) but wouldn’t even know where to start if I wanted to say hello in Nyungar the local language where I live. Isn’t our education syllabus incredibly outdated if they are teaching typical European languages but have completely forgotten to look inwards and think about what we could be learning about our country’s First People?
Learning about the First People’s culture it seems has to be self motivated. There are cultural centres in Perth where you can opt to learn some yourself, or you can do units at certain universities. I felt a wave of disappointment that our government hadn’t implicated teaching our youngest and brightest more about the traditions and cultures of the land we live in. What’s worse is a lot of these languages are dying out, thanks to the efforts of our previously elected governments.
Of course there are real logistical and some moral issues with my idea- one being the rarity of fluent Nyungar (or Noongar) speakers. A quick Google search will tell you that a 1996 census established there was only 157 people who spoke a Nyungar language, and by 2006 that number had only increased to 232. Teaching more people could be beneficial in facilitating social justice. But it could also feel like rubbing salt in the wound- having a whole bunch of white children murdering a language through teaching and learning. There must be a certain element of sensitivity, and of course, collaboration and permission sought from Indigenous leaders.
I literally know two sentences from the eight odd years of language lessons I received from my public education. I am yet to use them outside of a party situation although I’m sure if I ever do go to France I’m sure I would be telling everyone about my love affair for our fury friends. I am also by no means an expert on the matter. Listening to Black Magic (brilliant band by the way- check them out) simply made me realise that I didn’t even know how to say hello in even one of my country’s native tongue(s). I want to feel aware of the land that has borne and raised me- and not just stand quietly while someone gives a Welcome to Country or an acknowledgement of the traditional owners of our land. Wouldn’t it be a magical thing for all of our children to not only learn about or country’s true history, but to take part in keeping some of it, and it’s dying languages alive?