> March 2007 - Transient Languages & Cultures
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March 2007

Last week the Victorian government announced its first step towards a policy on Indigenous languages. So, Noel Pearson was onto something..

I wonder what's on their wishlist? Dual naming of places (that'll be slow after the Grampians fiasco)? More ceremonial language used on ceremonial occasions and in official publications? Some Indigenous languages to be taught in schools (that will require a big investment in preparing teaching materials and training teachers, to avoid alienating kids)?

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It's been a week for Indigenous Australian languages here in the Sydney area - the annual Australian languages workshop at Pearl Beach brilliantly directed by Joe Blythe, a new film on teaching NSW languages in schools, and finally the launch of Jennifer Biddle's new book Breasts, Bodies, Canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience (UNSW Press).


In the last seven days, the New Zealand Ministry of Education Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga introduced new national curricula of Māori and NZ Sign Language for mainstream English-medium schools (better late than never).


Check out Noel Pearson's opinion piece in The Australian 10/3/07. He suggests that the two most important pieces of work in "saving" Indigenous languages so far have been the language documentation work undertaken by linguists (yes!) sponsored by AIATSIS, and the translations of the Bible done mostly by Summer Institute of Linguistics linguists. (And to this let's add the importance of gospel song writing mentioned by Bulanjdjan and Wamut). He gently makes the point that linguists' grammars are often inaccessible to speakers. We should listen; we can do better.

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This week was the start of the Field Methods class. There are about ten of us, undergraduates and postgrads, with a range of interests, from about-to-head-off-to-the-field, to thinking-about-maybe-heading-off, to love-hearing-language-sounds, to love-language-and-technology, to I-think-I'll-change-to-theory. I 'm hoping that our class can keep up a weekly commentary on what's been happening. I'm also hoping that together with the local PARADISEC people, Tom Honeyman, Aidan Wilson, Amanda Harris and Vi King Lim, we can create a space on the PARADISEC links web-site to put up final versions of useful information we create, and links to other people's useful information. And of course, I'm hoping that we get suggestions for improving all of this!


Several Indigenous Australian music stories.

Last year's Stanner Award went to Allan Marett for his ethnomusicological study, Songs, dreamings, and ghosts: The Wangga of North Australia: Wesleyan University Press (2005). This is an award for "the best published contribution to Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Studies that is considered by Council to be a significant work of scholarship in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Studies and which reflects the dynamic nature of Professor Stanner’s life and work."

And the award ceremony was moving. Yes there were speeches. And then Allan explained how the wangga songs link the living and the dead (and check out also the radio program Ghost songs). He showed three short clips of performances of wangga. Then Joe Gumbula, a Yolngu scholar and musician, and the first Indigenous Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, sat down on the floor with his didgeridoo. Allan sat down next to him with clap sticks, and they performed two songs, Allan singing. Many traditional Indigenous Australian songs are HARD, hard to learn the words of, and hard to sing, but he made it seem effortless. Two scholars and musicians, Yolngu and non-Indigenous-Australian, performing traditional songs together. A future for us all.

And then the other way around. Indigenous Australians have been writing and performing modern Anglo-Australian songs in traditional languages for a while now.

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Alongside the conference papers from Paradisec's 2006 Conference and 2003 Workshop, the Sydney eScholarship Repository also has a section devoted to general research papers by Paradisec collaborators. In this section you can find papers on everything from the The National Recording Project for Indigenous Music in Australia to the Tuscan Maggio in Italy. Research papers will regularly be uploaded to this site, so keep an eye on it.


March is the month for Warlpiri in Sydney. Some people from Nyirrpi, a southwest Warlpiri community are putting on an exhibition of paintings, Emerging at Gallery Gondwana, 7 Danks Street, Waterloo, until March 13.

And then, just as they leave, some women from Lajamanu, the northernmost Warlpiri community, will be down as artists in residence for painting workshops at the Centre for Contemporary Art and Politics, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales from the 13th to the 23rd. They'll finish their visit by performing a public yawulyu (women's ceremonial dance and song series) on 23rd March. This will take place during the launch of a book Breasts, Bodies, Canvas: Central Desert Art as Experience by Jennifer Biddle (UNSW Press).


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