Indigenous elder pushes to preserve local language

HOW many indigenous words do you know? Can you spell them?

There are almost 2000 people in the Gladstone region who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Elder Richard Johnson wants his people better represented - and he wants it to start with language.

But there's no guarantee it will go smoothly.

Gladstone Regional Council agreed to name a new park at Tannum Sands after the Gooreng Gooreng traditional owners' words for hello and goodbye.

Unfortunately, the item had to be withdrawn from the table at the time because the council had been unable to confirm the correct spelling.

A phone call from this newspaper to Mr Johnson, whose family is highly respected in the indigenous community, set the record straight.

If spelt correctly, according to his family's holder of language, teacher aunty Jacqui Johnson, the park will be named Gullarn Ngheeree (pronounced Gull-arn Nee-eerie).

Mr Johnson has welcomed the council's decision to use the language of his people, and says it is a step in the right direction.

"In Australia it seems unless you are making the most noise or have a lot of financial support you won't be heard by the government," Mr Johnson said.

"Something has got to change. This park naming is a step towards that change.

"It doesn't matter how you spell it. What matters is how you say it."

There are 500 indigenous nations in Australia, each with their own language that is passed orally through generations.

Only 145 of those languages are still spoken - 110 are critically endangered.

He said Australia's indigenous people needed to form a common tongue that needed to be introduced into schools.

"We can use it as a tool to break down the barriers between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia."

The former federal Labor government pledged $456.4 million between 2009 to 2012 to support the teaching of languages, including Australian indigenous languages in non-government schools.

But it is yet to see the light of day.

Learn some Gooreng Gooreng:

  • Crocodile: Garrarbee
  • Moon: Narnoonloom
  • Pigeon: Wonarlum
  • Children: Duppeel
  • Cloud/rain: Boonoo
  • Flame: Boree

Topics:  gladstone gooreng gooreng heritage indigenous language

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