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Tuesday, 27 March 1973
Page: 691


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) (Minister for Education) - On 15th March I tabled in the House a document recommending bilingual education in certain Northern Territory schools. Mr Speaker, dhiyangubala ngarra ga wanga nhokala yolnguwurru mathakurru. What I said then was: 'Now I am speaking to you in the Aboriginal language'. It was Gupapuyngu, the language spoken by my Aboriginal friends at Milingimbi in Arnhem Land, and although it may sound strange to your ears, to them it is 'the language of the heart' and to their children it is their mother tongue. But, until this year, it has not been the language used by teachers in the Milingimbi school. Gupapuyngu. like most Aboriginal languages, is about as different from English as one could imagine, yet until this year little 5 and 6-year- old Aboriginal children for whom it is their mother tongue, going to school for the first time, have been faced with a European teacher speaking to them in English - which they must very soon learn to read and write or drop hopelessly behind in all of their school work. Assisting the European teacher there has often been one of their own people who does her best to help these small children understand. But what of their own language, the language their mothers and fathers speak, the language the old people speak, the language of the tribal stories, myths, legends and ceremonies? The schools have turned their back on that language and it is no wonder that the shocking comment has been heard from a 10-year-old Aboriginal boy: 'Ours is a rubbish language, isn't it'.

Australia is a member nation of the International Labour Organisation. Article 23 of the ILO Convention Concerning the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semi-tribal Populations in Independent Countries reads as follows:

(1)   Children belonging to the populations concerned shall be taught to read and write in their mother tongue, or, where this is not practicable, in the language most commonly used by the group to which they belong.

(2)   Provision shall be made for a progressive transition from the mother tongue or the vernacular language to the national language or to one of the official languages of the country.

(3)   Appropriate measures shall, as far as possible, be taken to preserve the mother tongue or the vernacular language.

On 14th December 1972 the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) made the following announcement:

The Federal Government will launch a campaign to have Aboriginal children living in distinctive Aboriginal communities given their primary education in Aboriginal languages.

The Government will also supplement education for Aboriginal children with the teaching of traditional Aboriginal arts, crafts and skills mostly by Aborigines themselves. . . .

We knew then that this would not be an easy policy to implement. There are more than a hundred Aboriginal languages and dialects in active use in the Northern Territory alone. Only a very few of them have been linguistically analysed and written down. Furthermore, in some communities a number of different languages is spoken. There are few trained teachers available to do the job, and nowhere near the quantity of written material in these languages needed for school work. In this situation the wise course seemed to be to have a small advisory group of people to go to the Northern Territory and, as quickly as possible, look into the resources of trained manpower, the teaching materials available and the state of linguistic analysis reached in the various languages and dialects. They were to discuss the matter with educationists, linguists, administrators, and with the Aboriginal people themselves, and in the light of all this, to make recommendations for a program of teaching in Aboriginal languages which would incorporate the teaching of traditional Aboriginal arts, crafts and skills.

The group chosen comprised Dr Betty H. Watts, Reader in Education at the University of Queensland, Mr W. J. McGrath, Inspector of Schools, Darwin, and Mr J. L. Tandy, a senior Education Officer of the Department of Education in Canberra. Their recommendations are presented in the document which 1 have tabled. They advocate a bilingual approach with most of the children's early schooling in the appropriate Aboriginal language, leading to the acquisition of literacy skills in that language. This will be followed by a transition to literacy in English and the use of English as the medium of instruction for a substantial component of the children's later schooling. There will be increased emphasis upon the teaching of traditional Aboriginal arts, crafts and skills and this will continue through the entire period of the children's schooling. The teaching will be done on a teaching team basis, the Aboriginal member teaching the Aboriginal language component of the curriculum, assisted as required in the preparation of lessons and so on by the non-Aboriginal member, who will also teach the English language component.

The educational aim of such an approach is the development of children who are thoroughly competent in their own language and able to read and write it, who are more proficient in English than they would have been under the present system, and who are better at all their school subjects because their schooling, and their early schooling in particular, has been more interesting, enjoyable and meaningful to them. One can also confidently expect psychological benefits from this recognition of the children's language and culture, and more enthusiastic support from the parents for the schooling their children are offered. This is not a program that can be implemented immediately in schools in all Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. As 1 mentioned earlier, there are communities where as many as 9 languages are spoken,

A start can be made, however, in communities where only one language is spoken or where there is a dominant language acceptable to that community, where that language has been linguistically analysed and recorded, where there are Aboriginal people able to teach in it and where the Aboriginal people themselves want it to be used in their school. Five such places in the Northern Territory are at Angurugu on Groote Eylandt, Milingimbi, Goulburn Island, Areyonga and Hermannsburg and the program is operating now in those schools. More schools will be added as we are able to develop the necessary resources for them.

During a recent visit to the Northern Territory I saw the first steps being taken towards this form of schooling. The 2 classes being taught in their own language were the most entranced classes we saw on the entire trip. In one class, young children were so riveted by a lesson being given in their language by an Aboriginal woman teacher that they paid no attention to the invasion of their classroom by more than a dozen adult Europeans. The second case was where a distinguished Aboriginal bark-painter was used as an art instructor, teaching senior boys the art of bark painting. They obviously had for him a reverence, even awe; they thought it a great privilege to be taught by him.

This is the very essence of the matter and I have had no hesitation in accepting recommendations which will have the effect of implementing this quality in education in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. I also intend to bring this document to the attention of State Ministers for Education, and particularly to those of Western Australia. South Australia and Queensland. I shall ask them to give their most serious consideration to the possibility of adapting its recommendations for implementation in schools in the distinctive Aboriginal communities in their States. (Quorum formed.)







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