NAIDOC Week 2017: Our Languages Matter

2017 National NAIDOC Logo.

The recent announcement of the 2017 NAIDOC Week theme has generated interest in schools and communities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. NAIDOC Week provides schools, community organisations, libraries and individuals with an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

New Media Toolkit – the importance of language projects.

This year’s NAIDOC Week theme highlights the importance of Indigenous languages as well as the urgency around community efforts in maintaining and preserving their traditional languages. On the State Library’s Indigenous Language and New Media Toolkit webpages there are some useful resources, including the above video which features Uncle Ernie Grant, Troy Wyles-Whelan and Gavin Singleton. It highlights their involvement in community language revival across North Queensland.

Barunggam Wordlist – Parts of the Body.

State Library has already fielded several inquiries about ideas to celebrate NAIDOC 2017; the Indigenous Languages webpages is certainly a good starting point with word lists, research guides and other materials.  There are many wordlists for parts of the body, numbers, animals and other everyday words for a number of Queensland Indigenous languages – you can even say g’day in over 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages!

Screenshot – Say G’day in an Indigenous language.

Some practical ideas for language activities include:

  • Guest speakers from the local community – language speakers, Elders and community members sharing their language journey
  • Record/document language speakers from the local community
  • Build up word lists for common/everyday things (e.g. family names, body parts, plants, animals, placenames, etc.)
  • Create a community dictionary for the local language/s
  • Record/document language songs, dance, and stories relating to the local community
  • Learn greetings/farewells in the local Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander language
  • Promote a ‘language word of the week’ for use at school and in the community
  • Dual signage/labels in the school-community – English and the local Indigenous language
  • Incorporate language activities into key events/displays, e.g. NAIDOC & Reconciliation Week
  • Schools, Kindergartens and Play Groups learning ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ in their local language

SLQ language resources.

The collections hold many significant items relating to Indigenous languages – these include Original Materials such as the Margaret Lawrie Collection, published texts, including dictionaries or linguistic surveys as well as audio-visual materials and digitized content. Use State Library’s One Search to find these in the catalogue.

Screenshot of ‘Tags’.

Over 2,500 items in the collections have been ‘tagged’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages – this represents ~350 traditional languages from across Australia. ‘Tags’ are a quick way to discover materials related to a topic or theme – as well as using existing ‘tags’ library members can add their own. Indigenous language related ‘tags’ include:  AIATSIS language codes such as y123 which identifies items relating to Dyirbal language from Far North Queensland; names of languages or dialects are also used, e.g. Kala Lagaw Ya,  Jandai or Wakka Wakka; topics such as Indigenous Languages Education or language revival are informative for school, libraries and communities.

Far North Queensland language resources.

As can be seen from the above, there are some excellent resources to help schools and communities start planning for NAIDOC Week 2017. Our languages matter in Queensland’s Indigenous communities – there are over 100 traditional languages or dialects in Queensland; only 2 or 3 of these can be classed as ‘thriving’, less than 20 are ‘strong’ while the remainder are all endangered!



Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator, Queensland Memory


State Library of Queensland Indigenous Languages webpages

State Library of Queensland Indigenous Languages and New Media Toolkit



References and Further Reading

Archibald Meston Papers. OM64-17

Breen, J. G. and Blake, B. (2007) The grammar of Yalarnnga: a language of western Queensland. Pacific Linguistics: Canberra. J 499.152 BRE

Curr, E. M. (1887) The Australian Race: its origins, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent. John Ferres Government Printer: Melbourne. RBF 572.994 cur

Dixon, R. M. W. (1972) The Dyirbal language of north Queensland. London: Cambridge University Press. G 499.15 1972

Dixon, R. M. W. (1977) A grammar of Yidin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. G 499.155 1977

Helon, G. (1994) The English-Goreng Goreng-English dictionary. Gurang Land Council: Bundaberg. G 499.15 1994

Hercus, L. and Sutton, P. (1986) This is what happened: historical narratives by Aborigines.  Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies: Canberra. J 994.0049915 thi

Hobson, J., Lowe, K., Poetsch, S. and Walsh, M (Eds) (2010) Re-awakening languages: theory and practice in the revitalisation of Australia’s indigenous languages. Sydney University Press: Sydney. 499.15 2010

Holmer, N. (1983) Linguistic Survey of South-Eastern Queensland. Australian National University: Canberra. J 499.15 HOL

Lawrie, M. The Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Straits Materials. TR2082

Watson, F. J. (1944) “Vocabularies of four representative tribes of South Eastern Queensland”; supplement to the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Queensland), No. 34, Vol XLVIII. REFJ 499.15 wat



AUSTLANG – Australia’s Indigenous Languages Database

Official NAIDOC website

Our Languages