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Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
Language learning in Indigenous communities

CATTONI, Ms Rita, Manager, Indigenous Community Television Ltd

CAVANAGH, Ms Louise, Director, Indigenous Community Television

CHARLES, Mr Dennis, Member, Indigenous Remote Communications Association

FEATHERSTONE, Mr Daniel John, Interim Manager, Indigenous Remote Communications Association

FISHER, Mr Simon Japangardi, Board Member, Indigenous Community Television

HEENAN, Mr Noel, Chairperson, Indigenous Remote Communications Association

HUGHES, Mrs Linda Florence, Communications Officer, Indigenous Remote Communications Association

JAMES, Mr Lionel, Board Member, PAW Media and Communications; and Member, Indigenous Remote Communications Association

KATAKARINJA, Ms Elizabeth Napaljarri, Member, Indigenous Remote Communications Association


CHAIR: Welcome. On behalf of the committee, I pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, past, present and future, and thank you for welcoming us here today. We are doing an inquiry as you know into the language in Indigenous communities. Thank you for your submission. We would like you to know that everything you say here must be factual and honest. It is important that you do so, as this is a formal proceeding of the federal parliament and it is important that we speak honestly, frankly and sincerely. Would anyone like to make a brief introductory statement before we proceed to questioning? It is not going to be hard questioning. It is not like in a court of law or anything like that. We will ask questions because we want to provide recommendations to the government which will enhance language learning in Indigenous communities from the Torres Strait to Tasmania and from Palm Beach on the east coast to Perth on the west coast. Would anyone like to tell us what you are doing and where you see language learning is up to?

Ms Cavanagh : I would like to welcome you all to the Arrernte country and also from the Warlpiri and Anmatyerr I would like to welcome you.

Mr Heenan : I wear a lot of hats, as you mob will know. I am the IRCA chairperson. I am a director for PAW Media, a duopoly media, as you guys know.

Mr Charles : I am a broadcaster for Warlpiri Media and I broadcast in language.

Ms Cavanagh : I am a board member for IC TV.

Ms Katakarinja : I work at PAW media and I do video in the language.

Mr James : I am from the Eastern Warlpiri tribe. I am a Warlpiri Media member and also a community elder.

Mr Fisher : I am a Warlpiri person. I am on the board and I also am a PAW public officer and do cultural liaison.

Ms Hughes : I am the communications officer for the Indigenous Remote Communications Association.

Mr Featherstone : I am manager of Indigenous Remote Communications Association. We have a close affiliation with Indigenous Community Television and have representatives from both here today.

CHAIR: Would anyone like to make a statement before we proceed to questioning? Lionel, would you like to say something?

Mr James : Most of us believe that language is a part of us. It also is part of our identity and who we are. Today, when we see a lot of young kids that are growing up, most of them do not know their language so they are lost and they have no respect for anyone other than themselves. With language, if they come to know themselves as a person they respect themselves and they respect others.

CHAIR: How is language important in terms of your culture but also in terms of health, education and other employment outcomes? How does it help you? We have heard a lot today about how language is part of the soul, that language is part of you as an Indigenous person and the land. What about education and employment outcomes as well?

Mr James : When you talk about language I am only talking about respect. Once they gain their respect and self-esteem, it helps them build their character and then they move on to other stuff. You see now a lot of our people, because they don't believe in themselves, they don't respect themselves and their self-esteem is low, they don't want to move on.

CHAIR: Do you receive any government funding? Do you receive any territory or federal government funding for your organisations?

Mr Featherstone : I will speak to that. The Indigenous Remote Communications Association receives funding through a program called the Indigenous Broadcasting Program, and then we get small lots of funding to run a national remote media festival and other programs. We are the peak body for eight remote media organisations spread out across Australia, which are mostly funded through the Indigenous Broadcasting Program, under the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and they in turn represent about 150 or so remote Indigenous broadcasting services.

CHAIR: Do you have any knowledge about the extent or the numbers of programs that are taught in Indigenous languages in your association? Do you have any figures that would show how many are taught?

Mr Featherstone : We do have some figures for Indigenous Community Television, and Louise has a copy of those, which basically give the number of languages that are broadcast on Indigenous Community Television. About 70 per cent of the programming that goes onto Indigenous Community Television is in language.

CHAIR: Louise, we would appreciate it if you could give us that information. That would be very helpful.

Ms Cavanagh : This is about the ICTV. It is being broadcast each weekend on Channel 23, on the Optus Aurora satellite. There are 60 hours of programming. There is a video streaming site with over 400 videos available. Broadcast delivers video content in 23 different languages from around Australia. The program in language runs approximately 70 per cent of ICTV.

CHAIR: Thank you, Louise. We will take that as part of your submission, if that is okay. Thank you very much.

Dr STONE: You are moving very much into the area of communications via television, radio, DVDs and the like. Lionel has referred to languages as being lost—young people not necessarily learning languages like they would have some time ago. How do you see your medium, the different technologies you are using, being made available perhaps to schools, early childhood education in particular, to make sure that Indigenous children have their community languages strong but also have English so that they can work cross-culturally and not be locked out of jobs because their English is not good enough but at the same time have strong community language? How does what you are doing give us some new tools or strategies?

Ms Katakarinja : With organisations like schools and child care or other such organisations, the bilingual is lost in those areas because the government just stopped all of those bilinguals. We need bilinguals in our schools and in our media organisations as well, because we lost all that. That is why we started media associations like radio to broadcast those languages. It is so that we can pass on all of those languages for kids to learn. It is not only for the kids; it is also for the adults—the young mothers and the young fathers, because they have lost their languages. They still cannot understand their own languages. They have to learn back more of those old languages for the future, for their children's children. They have to keep it strong, because it is coming from the heart. When they go for country visits, they go for the culture, for the language and for the kinships. They learn all that in their languages. Some of our kids go to the city to learn, and when they come back they do not have much of those languages.

Dr STONE: They have lost their traditional languages.

Ms Katakarinja : Yes, they have lost a bit.

Dr STONE: So you feel that your work—the various media that you are working with—can be a critical part.

Ms Katakarinja : Yes. We do a lot of documentaries on the elders. It is to make young people strong by learning it, so that when their generation grows up they can go back to media. They are not going to go to the media for one media thing; they will go for their own cultural tribal stuff. They will ask Simon, because he is an archive worker. He will just show them. It is in the archive for our children to learn the languages and to know the place that they come from and what language was there. I have got five languages but I only speak western Arrernte and Warlpiri. I can understand the other three languages but I cannot speak them. I have to go back and learn my great grandfather's languages too. All these Aboriginal people and children have to learn more languages. We never learnt our language in the proper way. We need to learn back.

Dr STONE: Who should teach those? Should it be the family or the community only or do you see those languages being taught in schools by teachers and teacher aides who are from country?

Ms Katakarinja : We need teacher aides to teach them in the school too, so working together in one.

Ms GRIERSON: First, I apologise—I have to leave to catch a plane very soon. In your submission, you stress how the NBN, the National Broadband Network, will be important here. Can you explain to me how important and what difference that will make? Can you give me an idea if it has been rolled out anywhere here yet?

Mr Featherstone : The NBN at this stage is a satellite delivered model. There is a first stage satellite that has been released with the six megabit per second down and one megabit per second up. That solution under NBN will enable a better service than most communities currently get, but it will limit the types of applications that are available to a lot of communities, particularly using video conferencing systems, which enable face-to-face communication.

Ms GRIERSON: So will real time communication ever be possible under the NBN?

Mr Featherstone : It will be possible, but there will be a latency issue which will restrict that. We will also have a contention because of the number of uses within a community, so if somebody is using video conferencing it will slow the use down for anyone else in the community until that becomes a more symmetric service. We have had quite a lot of input to government on that issue. We had the Broadband for the Bush Forum held last year in this complex talking about exactly those issues. Also, there is fibre optic cable out to a lot of communities already that is not included under the NBN scheme because it was not purchased.

Ms GRIERSON: Do you know who owns that fibre?

Mr Featherstone : Telstra.

Ms GRIERSON: So it will be eventually be able to be—

Mr Featherstone : Yes. The states have invested in that, but Telstra own that fibre out to all of those communities and will continue to use that for their basic services. One of the issues is that people do not have access to home telephony in a lot of communities. They also do not have internet access in most communities at this stage within their homes. There is not last mile delivery. There is not copper cable out to all households. There will be a need for other ways of distributing and sharing the cost as well as the access to the NBN when it is available. However, under the current model, which is a direct to home satellite model, that is going to be very difficult to negotiate because they will be wanting to have someone with a billed service. So the NBN, while it will provided an increased ability to get services for education, health, justice and so forth, is going to be restrictive in terms of the types of applications that can be achieved over it. Also, we will have very limited community uptake for quite a while to come, until there are a lot more programs to provide community access, training and appropriate online applications.

One of the applications recommended under the recent Indigenous Broadcasting and Media Sector Review was that instead of having Indigenous community television delivered via the satellite, it was recommended that it be delivered using indigiTUBE, which is the website that IRCA and ICTV have worked together to develop for delivering radio and television. That site is only currently available for most communities in local access centres. Very few people have it available at their homes. In terms of a primary television service, it basically is going to be a long time before people will have access to that. It is critical that Indigenous community television has a satellite platform on the digital satellite if it is going to reach the remote audiences that it is intended for.

Ms GRIERSON: I think Lionel mentioned young people without language do not have respect for themselves and their people. I think it was Lionel who said that. We have been out to communities where there are DVDs of western music and western culture. How do you try to marry traditional language with popular culture for young people?

Do some of the outlets do that? Do some of these services do that?

Mr Featherstone : All of the remote media organisations do that.

Mr Fisher : I am an archivist. Most of the stuff is 28 years old when this first started, because most of the language and culture is recorded in language itself with the elders. My background is in anthropology research—a lot of my stuff is in language distribution for the universities. It is part of my job as a cultural liaison officer, and for western researchers too, to look at intellectual property and protocol. A lot of our stuff was taken away for archaeological study in museums overseas and not returned. A lot of stuff is in state libraries and in state museums. There was no respect and no consultation. There was illegitimate consultation with the people concerned. I am talking about material and other stuff taken. People did that stuff. You name it.

Ms Katakarinja : We made all the videos in languages. In the olden days they made a lot of stuff like Manu Wana in counting—it is sort of like Sesame Street. It is alright on languages. They count in languages and speak in language. We also worked with schools to make some videos, doing a lot of animation stuff in languages too. All the kids got together to do a lot of animation stuff, as well. We lost the bilingual teaching, that is why have to teach kids by media and radio. We have to give feedback to them with language as well, because it is really no good for our kids to lose their languages. The cannot write their own words in languages; they have to learn more about it. It is sort of like they have to get literacy and numeracy, just the same as the English school. They know English. They can do everything in English but they have to go back and learn that language as well, because that is our kids' future. We have to keep our language strong.

Mr Heenan : Backing up what Liz is saying, 30 years ago we had Bush Mechanic.We are going to put it into animation now and let people out there know that we are still here—we are not going to pass away. We need to show our people, especially the young people, but the old people as well, because at the end of the day if we do not do it for ourselves—for our law, our language and our land—we are buggered. That is what we are all about. I am supporting what the other speakers are saying.

Mr HAASE: Over the last couple of days we have had a lot of evidence given in relation to the breakdown of culture. We have heard a lot about the necessity of tying language and culture together and for people to be strong. The implication is that it requires government funding to do that. I am interested in hearing from you what you think has changed? Some evidence we were given was that language has been passed down for 60,000 years very successfully. Of course we have had European settlement, but I would have thought that language and culture would have been taught by parents to their children today just as it was generations ago. Maybe if we as a committee understood what stopped that from happening and why it is no longer a parental family responsibly, that it has to become a government responsibility, if we understood that we would perhaps be in a better position to make recommendations about it. Could you tell us what, in your words, why you think the process of teaching has broken down?

Mr Heenan : It goes two ways. When they are bush, they listen and learn. When they are at school, they do not want to. So how do you break that? I do not know. That is the hardest part to try and justify that, because at the end of the day they learn our language, law and culture when they go bush. When they are in the mainstream, it is just all gone. Gone away from them, but when they go back out bush, it just comes back naturally. So we need that education and all of that. At the end of the day, we have to respect the old people because at the end of the day we have to learn from our old people. Without them, we would be buggered.

Mr HAASE: But why are parents not teaching children language and culture?

Mr James : A lot parents now—before the contact of white people they had just one language. Once they came into contact, the kids had to go to school and they picked up another language. Since then, it has become the main language at home. Then, the parents cannot even teach their kids their own language because they have not learned their own language. Slowly, it is going down, from generation to generation. It is not being passed down.

Mr HAASE: Does anyone else want to express a view?

Mr Featherstone : Something you were all talking about this morning when we were preparing was the reason remote media got started in the first place back in the early 1980s. It was because the Aussat satellite was being launched. It was going to bring mainstream English based language in via radio and then TV and remote communities were very nervous about the impact that having English on their media all the time was going to have in their communities. It happens in their schools, in their offices. There are white staff who do not understand language who they deal with on a day to day basis. That normalises English as the primary communication in order to gather services, in order to gather information. The development of remote media was a response to that, where having language heard on the radio and on television was seen as critical by communities in order to keep their own language regularly heard. Now, that has played an important role and will continue to play an important role into the future, but it is against a massive tide. We now have 16 channels of mainstream TV about to arrive on the new vast digital platform. We are still struggling to find a place for Indigenous languages on that platform.

Ms Katakarinja : You were asking about why parents were not teaching. Parents are still teaching their children at home. They come to school but our kids really need to learn bilingual too in school. They are still never learn more languages. We have to have two languages teaching in classrooms, because at home they do teach language. When they were small babies they grew up by learning languages. I learned language at home. I grew up by that language. I have to learn more because I still do not know more about the Arrernte language. It still have trouble writing the proper way because nowadays it is really mixed up languages written in all the dictionaries. I have seen dictionaries where eastern Arrernte languages are mixed up with western Arrernte languages. I have seen it.

Mr James : It is true what you say, that educating has to be started on. Look at the history of our people, and the way they have been all pushed into one community, some even off their own tribal land and onto a foreign tribal land. Then there are the tribal conflicts. There are tribes that are a long way from their homelands. It is very hard for them to maintain their language because they are not close to their country; they are living in another man's country or tribal area. All through our history, we have always been dictated to on how we should run our daily lives as people.

Mr HAASE: You are talking about pre white settlement?

Mr James : Yes. Somewhere down the line, our needs and wants began to slowly dwindle. We have to look at our history if we talk about languages. A lot of us have grown up in communities that are not in our grandfathers' or even our grandmothers' country. We have grown up in someone else's country. A lot of people have died, taking their language with them, because they have been back at home in their country. They have taken away all that language. All that breakdown has been coming down to us slowly. I come from a community where there are about four or five different language groups. All have to live together. My tribe came from another area and were put by the government into the mission with all the other tribes, and we had to mix. Then that breakdown happened.

Mr HAASE: From that I would gather that what you are suggesting is that the policies of assimilation stopped the motivation for parents to want to teach the kids because they were off country and, as we heard previously—

Dr STONE: But often the kids were taken away to other places—

CHAIR: We are way off the track here, Barry. You are miles away from what we are talking about. I will let you go on for a while but really we need to get back to the issues. These people's time is valuable and so is ours, but we are getting into some of the history of assimilation and that sort of stuff. I am not here to blame the parents for it, okay? We are here to see if we can get some good outcomes. I do not think it is exceptionalism by Indigenous people. I want to hear from these people about other issues and how they are involved in things rather than go through the long history of assimilation.

Mr HAASE: With all due respect, Chair, to both you and our audience—who have so much very valuable information that ought to go into this report—the recommendations by this committee, which I will contribute to very strongly, need that justification. Without it, we cannot make recommendations.

CHAIR: Well—

Mr HAASE: So I thank you for your comments, Chair. I think it is very important, regardless of how the chair may feel.

Mr James : We have got to look at a bit of the history.

CHAIR: Sorry; I am very happy these people have taken their valuable time to come here today to give us that information, but I want to hear from them on the issues that relate to their submissions rather than about the long history of assimilation. Can you tell us about how many people work for the network and how the training is done in relation to your network?

Dr STONE: I think, Lionel, you wanted to follow on from that, didn't you?

Mr James : When you were talking about media I wanted to say that we do believe media does play a vital role in maintaining our language. Growing up as a kid I used to watch Play School and Sesame Street. It is very hard to sit down with kids and try and talk to them and tell them stories in language. But, if we can use the media or the television to give them those stories in their language, we should go for it.

Ms Katakarinja : Through the media our children learn a lot about English because there is not much broadcasting or TV in language. Probably 28 years ago now, the first broadcasting in language was done by the Warlpiri people, the Arrernte people and also the Pitjantjatjara mob. They were the first to broadcast when radio started in Alice Springs from Palmer. They got together because they did not have any language broadcasting or videos, and they started doing that. A lot of people wanted their children to learn in language and they were trying to continue it into the future.

CHAIR: How many people work for your association and how many language-speaking people—

Ms Katakarinja : In our association we have about nine Aboriginal workers and about four non-Aboriginal workers.

Mr James : That is, based in the PAW Media at Yuendumu.

Ms Katakarinja : At PAW Media.

Mr Featherstone : What has happened with a lot of the media organisations is that they have a hub site with a remote media organisation and then RIBS communities. So there are close to 150 RIBS communities spread out across Australia and probably in the vicinity of about 300 to 400 broadcasters working altogether.

Previously, under the CDEP program, it was easy to employ people with a fairly flexible arrangement so they could come and work when they were there, when they wanted to or between different roles in the community. When it shifted in 2009 to the national jobs package, the emphasis was moved from the community employing to the remote media organisation employing those people, and that has changed both the number of people that we can now employ, because CDEP is no longer available, and the hours that they have to work. There is basically a 20-hour per week position, regardless of whether that is going to be suitable for that job or not. That has created a lot of inflexibility within the sector and has reduced the number of people that can be employed, because they basically have to be employed through that program.

In some areas they have still been able to manage the CDEP but, for instance, the Torres Strait was being done through the shire and they have just all lost their jobs because the shire decided that that was not a program they could fund anymore. So there will be no RIBS broadcasters employed after June of this year. It is a constant struggle of trying to find ways to employ people and to get them reasonable wages to match the level of training that they have done. Most people have done certificate II or III level of training.

CHAIR: I was going to ask the question: what training have the workers got? Have they got certificate II or III educations?

Mr Featherstone : A lot have. How many of you have done certificate III in broadcasting or another training course? Dennis, would you like to talk?

Mr Charles : I did training for radio for two weeks. I got a certificate III in media.

Mr Featherstone : I will continue. Batchelor Institute were previously doing a lot of that training delivery but have since pulled back from doing Central Australian delivery and have really focused mostly on the Top End.

CHAIR: Why did they do that?

Mr Featherstone : I am not sure. I think it was funding and internal policy decisions and also the fact that the delivery required the trainers to go out into remote areas and they were finding it hard to get people to do that, rather than actually recognising that there are trainers already working with the organisations who can do the delivery and they provide the accreditation or the evaluation.

CHAIR: Did anyone from Batchelor tell you it could be to do with dollars and cents?

Mr Featherstone : They have suggested that is part of the equation, but the funding that they did have is still there; it has just been turned into staff positions instead of being allocated to doing co-delivery So that has again reduced the amount of accredited training being done in remote communities, although the non-accredited training is still delivered through the remote media organisations.

Dr STONE: I am not sure who would be the right person to answer this, but how do you make the decisions about which languages to put out your programs in, given there are a number of Central Australian languages? Do you have any policy where you try to give all of the continuing languages have some air time at some place? It is quite a complex matter, I know—Liz has just said that she speaks four languages.

Ms Katakarinja : There are different languages here. We just put what we language are broadcasting in our community and our TV shows. It is good for kids to learn. There are also young people like Dennis, who comes in and out to PAW to train and do some work at home, some broadcasting. The kids come to our organisation, they learn and they do some broadcasting themselves.

Dr STONE: So it is very local.

Mr James : It depends on which community on that day is broadcasting. So, if Yuendumu is broadcasting, it is mostly in Warlpiri. But if we get someone from Kintore and Kintore is broadcasting, it is in their language. If it is from where [inaudible] comes from it is in Mudburra. So it depends on which community on the day are broadcasting as to which language is heard.

Dr STONE: Okay. And your signal only goes to those areas particular areas, anyway, so there is not a problem of some people are saying, 'That's not my language.'

Mr James : It depends on which community is broadcasting on the day which languages are heard.

Ms Cattoni : To take up on that point, each RIMO generally represents a different language group—although not always. So the PAW generally tend to be in Anmatyerr-Warlpiri languages and APY media, Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra languages. In terms of the numbers that Louise spoke about, the 23 indigenous languages, and the question about policy: we broadcast in the languages of the material we receive, and most of the material we receive is from Central Australia and Western Australia, because these are the areas which have had a strong history of video productions—I am talking from a television point of view. So there is a lot of Warlpiri content, a lot of Pitjantjatjara content and content from the Pilbara and north of Broome. However, there is a large area of Australia which historically has not produced television content, and we cannot broadcast in those languages because we have very limited content. The amount of languages we broadcast in is relative to what content we receive. So, while we would like to broadcast in a range of different languages, it depends on what we receive. We have no acquisition dollar—anybody who gives us content that fits in with our programming policy, it goes up. So at the moment we would love to get some material from the Top End—we are starting to get some—and from Cape York and the Torres Straits. But very little of that material is actually programmed because there is very little material.

Dr STONE: So it is really a relatively voluntary sort of process.

Ms Cattoni : We are a community broadcaster in the true sense in that our audience are also our program makers.

Mr Featherstone : Just to go back to the issue of languages in which we broadcast, obviously that is dealt with by the radio stations as satellite services to particular regions. There are eight remote media organisations with their own footprint on the satellite for the radio network that they deliver, so that helps to keep the languages for that region relatively specific and most people in those language footprints are able to understand the other languages that are broadcast, or have a fairly good understanding. In terms of what Rita was referring to with collating content from communities, one of the biggest issues that the remote sector has had is not having any content production funding at all. In fact, video was taken out of the Indigenous broadcasting program in 2006. We were told we could not use any of that funding for video production or multimedia production, only for radio broadcasting.

Dr STONE: Does that include the health messages?

Mr Featherstone : For anything. There is no video production, unless you can get it sponsored by another organisation. Most of the production has happened through sponsored corporate type programming, but there is no actual funding. The only way that most of the programming for ICTV is done is through training programs and so forth. When NITV was set up in 2007 and launched, it was to build on the ICTV service that had been running on Imparja's second channel since 2002. In fact, the remote broadcasters who had been broadcasting in language to their communities lost access to the channel—NITV took over that channel—and they also lost access to any of that production dollar, because it was set up as a high-end commissioning model and mostly in English. So, of the $80 million that has been invested in Indigenous television in the last five years, almost none of that reached the remote production area.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for coming here. Lionel, do you want to say one last thing?

Mr James : Yes. We do believe that media plays a major role in maintaining language but it also could be used as a means of cross-cultural awareness for others, to teach not only our young kids but the wider community. Talking about language, I was watching this program with Ernie Dingo in it. He was putting on a show. He asked the audience if they knew how to say 'yes' and 'no' in every language. He called out all these countries and they answered; they gave him the names. They said 'yes' in all these other languages. When Ernie said, 'Can any of you speak 'yes' in any of the thousands of dialects or Aboriginal languages that we have in this country, the room just went silent.

Dr STONE: An interesting point.

CHAIR: We are about half an hour to three-quarters of an hour over time, so we apologise for that. Thank you very much for coming here today and for taking the time to present your very detailed submission. We greatly appreciate it. And I also thank you for being so open and honest with us.