Indigenous people speak their native tongues

Uncle Gary Williams (from Muurrbay, Nambucca Heads) and Aunty Irene Harrington (Ginibi, Lismore)
Uncle Gary Williams (from Muurrbay, Nambucca Heads) and Aunty Irene Harrington (Ginibi, Lismore)

There was a mood of celebration among Aboriginal language custodians, teachers and activists yesterday (Wednesday) after the Bill for Aboriginal Languages was read in the Upper House of the NSW Parliament.

And Gumbaynggirr man Gary Williams was among those sitting in the chamber listening to the debate.

“I was sitting on one side of the House President John Ajaka, and a woman form Lismore was on his other side,” Gary said.

“The bill was presented by the Minister (of Aboriginal Affairs, Sarah Mitchell) then a lot of Aboriginal people spoke their languages, then the politicians had their say … Labor and the Greens were positive and even Fred Nile had some good things to say.

“It was very pleasing to see the bill get through the Upper House – now it will go to the Lower House to be discussed on October 18. The Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, came in and had a chat and said she was sorry she missed the proceedings.

“Once it is passed, there will be the hard work of implementing it.”

Gary said in essence the Aboriginal Languages Bill 2017 put a solid structure in place to both recognise the importance of Aboriginal languages in NSW and support their revitalisation.

“This is a big step forward – it will also mean more money to fund the language nests and special projects.”

Link to the details of the bill: CLICK HERE

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Sarah Mitchell said the NSW Government had worked alongside language experts and Aboriginal communities, including at 32 meetings and workshops around NSW, to develop the Bill.

“It was crucial to get a diverse range of opinions and input from all over the state to ensure the legislation was as sturdy as possible,” Ms Mitchell said.

“The Bill was introduced in the Upper House today in the presence of Aboriginal Elders and community representatives with a moving message stick ceremony – symbolic of Aboriginal people’s custodianship of language.”

The Legislation includes the establishment of an independent trust made up of Aboriginal community leaders, who will oversee the development a strategic plan to protect and strengthen Aboriginal languages through programs, partnerships and funding.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) has called for reasonable and appropriate amendments to the Bill, stressing the need to balance Government powers, community ownership and self-determination.

Chair Roy Ah-See said the Bill was an historic opportunity to address the wrongs of past Government practices but said a better balance between Government, Aboriginal language owners and communities was needed before the Bill became legislation.