Making up one-third of Australia’s land mass and 10% of the population (when Australian Antarctic Territory is not included), Western Australia is home to about 58,000 indigenous Australians (3.1% of the population). Although the Australian Indigenous Languages Database lists 171 languages in WA, the Ethnologue says of 274 languages in the country as a whole, only 161 are still spoken.
The House of Representatives is currently looking into incorporating indigenous language learning in schools. The inquiry is being implemented by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, headed by Member of Parliament Shayne Neumann.
In the article “A gift for languages improves class results,” Neumann notes that there are encouraging signs in the move to further indigenous languages in Australia, but he also says that efforts remain inadequate.
At one of the committee’s meetings, Barbara McGillivray, chair of the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages and Culture and former teacher, appealed to the integral nature of language in one’s true identity. She mentioned how excited her children were when she taught a module on Wangatha (perhaps Wangkatha, a dialect of Western Desert).
Consultant Wendy Hewitt said that there are currently 17 indigenous languages being taught in 48 Western Australia schools. She reported that teachers see children light up during Yawuru (ywr) instruction time.
What a great reason for incorporating language in the curriculum!