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Ngarrindjeri enjoys revival -

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Ngarrindjeri enjoys revival

The World Today - Thursday, 29 January , 2009 12:49:00

Reporter: Nance Haxton

ELIZABETH JACKSON: A special anniversary has sparked a revival in an Aboriginal language that had
almost disappeared.

This year marks 150 years since the establishment of the town of Raukkan - an Aboriginal settlement
on South Australia's Lower Lakes on the lower reaches of the Murray River.

The town was the home of the man who appears on our $50 note - David Unaipon. The Ngarrindjeri
Aboriginal man was a preacher and an inventor.

Not only has the anniversary brought renewed interest in the man and his achievements, it's also
prompted a revival of his native language, as Nance Haxton reports from the Lower Lakes.

(Singing of 'The Old Rugged Cross' in Ngarrindjeri language)

NANCE HAXTON: For decades, the Ngarrindjeri language was all but lost, spoken only as broken words
but not in full sentences.

Generations of Ngarrindjeri people were taught not to speak the language of their ancestors, by
missionaries who punished them harshly if the language was heard.

But a special anniversary has sparked a revival in the language and words are becoming sentences
once again.

Ngarrindjeri elder Julia Yandell says hearing the language sung again has brought great excitement
to the community.

JULIA YANDELL: So hopefully that you know we'll continue to go on with it.

NANCE HAXTON: Perhaps even hearing it sung as well as spoken, does that help that process do you
think?

JULIA YANDELL: Yes, yes. I think they were more taken up with us singing because 'The Old Rugged
Cross' meant a lot to them. That was our song.

NANCE HAXTON: Hearing a classic hymn such as 'The Old Rugged Cross' sung in Ngarrindjeri was
something Dorothy French never thought she'd experience.

DOROTHY FRENCH: Because we couldn't even put two Ngarrindjeri words together before and now to have
a song that we can sing fully in Ngarrindjeri it just gives you a really good feeling.

NANCE HAXTON: Rita Lindsay plays the guitar and is one of the younger participants in the choir.
She says that brings with it a responsibility to keep the language spoken by generations to come.

RITA LINDSAY: I think because it's been misplaced for a while, so just to have it back it's a part
of our culture, it's come back so it's a part of us.

NANCE HAXTON: Mary-Ann Gale is a linguist who has assisted with rebuilding the language.

MARY-ANN GALE: It's an interesting case with Ngarrindjeri because certain languages that are being
revived in Australia they say they went to sleep but Ngarrindjeri never actually went to sleep and
there's still at least 400 words that the elders still remember and still use but they use those
words within their Nunga English.

But this project or this revival process has taken a big leap and we've just decided to actually
retrieve the grammar of the language and that's something that really was lost.

NANCE HAXTON: The 150th anniversary celebrations of the Raukkan community will centre around the
community church which features on Australia's $50 note. In front of the church on the $50 note is
David Unaipon who was dubbed Australia's Leonardo da Vinci for his many inventions.

He is also remembered as a powerful preacher in the Raukkan community and for his writings on
Aboriginal myths and legends, which he believed were compatible with the Christian faith.

The church has been renovated from ruin for the event and as a living monument for the local
Aboriginal people. It sits on the shores of Lake Alexandrina, where the freshwater meets the
saltwater near the mouth of the River Murray in South Australia's Lower Lakes.

Ngarrindjeri elder Eileen McHughes says singing hymns in Ngarrindjeri is a fitting celebration for
such an important milestone.

EILEEN MCHUGHES: It was really appropriate to do it because the missionaries took away the language
in the first place and we thought with the reopening of the church we'll revive our language and
start off from there.

(Music continues)

ELIZABETH JACKSON: And that was Ngarrindjeri elder Eileen McHughes ending that report from Nance
Haxton.