Puliima National Indigenous Language & Technology Forum 2017

Puliima Logo.

Puliima means ‘making voice’ in the Awabakal language, the traditional language of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area of New South Wales. The Forum is held every two years and this year it was in Cairns with delegates from all over Australia. It is always interesting to hear what language projects, programs and events have happened and are being developed in revitalising and maintaining traditional languages.

After two very warm Welcome to Country sessions, the conference commenced with Harold Ludwick from Hope Vale who spoke of the importance of retaining language in keeping cultural connections to country. Concurrent sessions were grouped under Community, Education and Technology streams with the underpinning message always looking at maintaining or reviving language.

Pama Language Centre showcased some of the great work they have been doing with communities in the Cape York Peninsula.

Painted Stories, Pama Language Centre.

Their projects are many and varied including Painted Stories in Aurukun, On-line lessons and learning in Hope Vale to Children’s books & songs. They use a blend of traditional methods as well as new media and modern ideas with their projects. We also heard they now publish and sell books in traditional Cape York languages through Pama Language Press.

First Languages Australia along with Fiona Reynolds from ABC Regional talked about what can be achieved when working and collaborating with partners.  The session highlighted major projects  they will be working on together in the future and successful past projects such as the ABC Mother Tongue and the current Word Up project.

ABC Mother Tongue Project.

ABC Regional radio call-sign IDs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages is another collaborative project which will see hundreds of fifteen second sound bites created and aired on ABC Regional Radio across the country. The sound bites are known as station IDs as they identify the radio station. Around the country, radio producers have been working with Indigenous community members to record and edit the IDs for broadcast.

Another highlight of the Forum was a very informative and thought provoking session by Bruce Pascoe on the history of Aboriginal people cultivating land dating back thousands of years. Many Australian museums display long, knife-like implements, which have labels such as ‘of unknown use’ when in fact they are Juan knives – long sharp blades of stone, which have been described as tools Aboriginal people used to cut down grain. Evidence in a grindstone discovered at an archaeological site at Cuddie Springs in New South Wales had signs of having been used to grind seeds into starch for cooking more than 30,000 years ago.This leads to Bruce Pascoe’s belief and topic ‘that if Aboriginal people invented society, bread and agriculture the chances are they also invented language’.

Cook’s chart of the Endeavour River. Courtesy: National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an9537993

Cook’s Chart of the Endeavour River [NLA Collection]

Cooks Legacy – The Endeavour Journals recorded the first account of contact with the Endeavour River, [Cooktown] Guugu Yimithirr people. This record gives us insight of culture, law, language and spiritual beliefs of the Guugu Yimithirr people which was vital to the survival of Cook and his crew.

Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages [VACL] and soprano Deborah Cheetham have composed a war requiem – to honour the Gunditjmara people [southwestern Victoria] who fought and died in defence of their country during the Eumeralla War. This Project was developed by Ms Cheetham at the request of Gunditjmara Elders and she in turn invited VACL into the Requiem Mass Project to translate the Mass into Gunditjmara language.

The Forum brings together people from all over Australia and internationally and is a great place to share project ideas, products and equipment that can be used in Indigenous languages projects. It was great catching up with old friends and meeting new people who share the common goal of preserving and celebrating languages of Australia.


Rose Warsow

Indigenous Languages Project Officer, State Library of Queensland