Published on 28 January, 2021

Boost from State Government to revive Aboriginal languages of SA

A one-year pilot program launched today by Premier Steven Marshall will set the foundation for the revival and maintenance of Aboriginal languages in South Australia.

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The Aboriginal Living Languages SA Co-operative is a joint venture involving the South Australian Museum in partnership with the Mobile Language Team (MLT) and Aboriginal communities of South Australia. The project aims to reactivate archival materials for use in the flagship website to revive and promote South Australia’s unique and important Aboriginal language heritage.  

Director of the South Australian Museum, Brian Oldman says it is hoped this project will significantly increase the online presence of Aboriginal language resources for community-based learning and be a resource for schools.

“There is a total of 46 Aboriginal languages in SA and we’ve chosen to kick the project off with Tanganekald, a dormant Riverine language from the Ngarrindjeri Nation in the State’s South East, recorded from Aboriginal man Milerum (Clarence Long) by Australian anthropologist Norman Tindale in the 1930s,” says Mr Oldman.  

The Museum holds a large number of rich language materials including handwritten index cards detailing the Tanganekald language.

“We’re really lucky to hold one of the most important Aboriginal heritage collections in SA and it’s fantastic we can use our collection to help breathe life back into Aboriginal language,” explained Mr Oldman.  

To support the project the Museum has employed four linguists to provide expert advice and coordinate the digitisation, analysis and production of language learning materials, in particular, the Norman Barnett Tindale and Johann Georg Reuther collections. With an initial focus on the Coorong, digitising these collections provides a historical baseline for a number of other languages and cultures in the Lakes region with efforts to revitalise these languages as the project progresses.  

Michael O’Loughlin, former AFL legend and great-grandson of Milerum, has come on board as an ambassador for The Aboriginal Living Languages SA Co-operative.  

“As a proud Narungga, Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna man it was always important to stay connected with my People, country and culture after living away from home for so long. I am proud to be an ambassador for the Tanganekald language pilot program,” explained Mr McLoughlin.

“I am looking forward to learning and expanding my own knowledge around our languages and to also help promote the beauty of our culture to the wider community and hopefully inspire our younger generations to come along for that journey,” says Mr O’Loughlin. 

Premier Steven Marshall says that Aboriginal languages are a living memory of the shared experiences of many generations.

“The longer we wait, the harder it becomes to recover and maintain these languages. That’s why we have funded this pilot project to support Aboriginal language revival in South Australia. By investing in this project now we can ensure that Aboriginal language is nurtured, preserved and maintained for future generations.”

Responding to the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages 2019 and the upcoming UNESCO International Decade of Indigenous Languages in 2022 the South Australian Museum seeks to expand its services to South Australian Aboriginal communities and the broader public through the State’s rich Aboriginal language heritage.

“The Aboriginal Living Languages SA Co-operative is an exciting new chapter for Aboriginal language in SA and we hope it will provide a range of learning resources that will enable individuals, families and schools to interact with and learn ancestral and living languages,” added Mr Oldman.

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