Op-Ed - Indigenous Literacy Day

Today students from Nhulunbuy Primary School will take the stage at the Sydney Opera House, some 4,200km away from the familiar surrounds of their remote community on the Gove Peninsula, to read and perform their new book I Saw We Saw.


What makes this performance so significant is that the children, aged between 9 and 12 years, will tell the story in their home language – Yolngu Matha.


The book brings to life the natural beauty and richness of this faraway corner of Australia, country that stretches across 97,000 square kilometres – one of the largest Indigenous groups in Australia.


“There’s a lot to see in Yolngu country” the book begins, before taking the reader on an illustrated journey where they encounter gurruṯuminy (family), djeṯ (eagle) and bӓru (crocodile) – to name a few.


In Australia, 120 of the estimated original 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are spoken today, and of this 90 per cent are endangered. I Saw We Saw achieves more than the sharing of traditional Australian culture, it helps to preserve, and save a crucial part of our nation’s identity.


Today, as we celebrate Indigenous Literacy Day, it’s important to acknowledge the important place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages play in both the past and future of our nation.


For Indigenous Australians, traditional language is a central part of culture. Preserving these languages helps to enrich the quality of our story telling, and the passing of knowledge and history through the generations.


But it’s true that for all Australians, the ongoing restoration of Indigenous language will bring light to a more accurate and vivid account of Australian history – it will also go some way to enhancing the truth-telling process (the sharing of our nation’s many histories), and help to forge a more unified and tolerant understanding of our nation’s past.


While Australia’s Indigenous language is largely untapped, around one-third of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speak an Australian Indigenous language, and this increases to two-thirds in remote areas.


Many of these Indigenous Australians have literacy skills in their first language, which in turn can assist in developing their English language learning.


As the first Aboriginal person to hold the position of Minister for Indigenous Australians, one of my highest priorities is to see more children receiving quality education and opportunities for sustained, long term employment – literacy and numeracy skills are so important to realising this success.


That’s why, the Morrison Government is committed to improving the literacy and numeracy outcomes of all students, including supporting Indigenous Australians to develop literacy skills through their home languages.


We know that students are better able to engage with their learning when they are able to see themselves and their identities reflected in reading material.


Indigenous Literacy Day, and the work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, is important in highlighting existing language and literacy skills and promoting the further preservation and development of Indigenous language through texts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.


I Saw We Saw is one of many resources that is helping to improve literacy levels in Indigenous communities, as well as strengthening the connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island history for all Australians. 


So today I encourage you to explore the resources available through the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, as well as in your local community if available, to learn more about literacy from an Indigenous language perspective.


Together we can celebrate the important role Indigenous language has to play in modern day Australia and help to preserve stories and lessons of history for our generation and those to come.


As the students of Nhulunbuy Primary School conclude Ḏitjuwa nhӓƞa ga malƞthuma nhӓ waripum wӓyin malany – we saw our Yolngu country, it’s the best – I invite you to see it too.


For more information please visit https://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au