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Guugu Yimithirr Elder helps preserve language for future generations

Rachael Knowles -

One of Australia's first Aboriginal languages to be recorded, Guugu Yimithirr language of Cape York, Queensland is now immortalised in videos to enable the teaching of future generations.

The tutorial videos teach language, develop current knowledge and understanding, and connect Guugu Yimithirr people to culture. They were uploaded to YouTube in March by Good to Great Schools Australia (GGSA).

Guugu Yimithirr Elder, Dora Gibson, features as a teacher in the online tutorials.

"When we were doing it, we just thought it was something that we had to do. We were given that opportunity, so we didn't say no because we wanted it done. And choosing a different way of keeping our language alive was a good way to go," Ms Gibson said.

Guugu Yimithirr is one of the earliest Australian Aboriginal languages recorded by Captain Cook in 1770, with the Guugu Yimithirr word for 'kangaroo' being the foundation of the word in English.

From the early 1970s, Aboriginal languages were suppressed. Today, of the 1,400-strong Guugu Yimithirr nation, around half speak their languageâ€"the most fluent being Elders.

Ms Gibson speaks both Guugu Yimithirr and English fluently.

"[Our language] was suppressed ... when we were growing up and going to school. We were only allowed to do English at school and our language at home," she said.

"But in doing so, they sort of subconsciously gave us the ability to have that control of our language. I can talk to you now and then I can talk to you in my language, I have control of that."

Guugu Yimithirr has been kept alive by the work of Elders, who have passed their knowledge on to younger generations.

"You feel proud, and you want kids to be able to be that too," Ms Gibson said.

"I am very proud of our Indigenous culture; I am so proud. Because back in the day, it was suppressed, we were made to feel shame."

"Our language was not classed as important as we do it today. It was just a language at that time, but now it's done a turnaround."

Hope Vale's Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy Attendance and Community Engagement Officer, Cheryl Cannon, said whilst the transmission of Guugu Yimithirr language has declined, it is being maintained strongly in community.

"Many households with Elders at home are maintaining language. I'm not worried it will be lost; we will continue to teach our children," Cannon said.

"Singing in language is a great way for children to learn how words are pronounced, and the subtitles enable children to see how words are spelt."

GGSA hopes the tutorials will be used from here into the future for generations to learn language. The organisation encourages governments to work with First Nations Peoples to preserve language.

"Guugu Yimithirr is one of the best kept languages in Australia, and we are proud to be part of that. Your language gives you your culture and your identity, it makes you proud to be who you are," Ms Gibson said.

The tutorials are free to view via GGSA's YouTube and Facebook platforms.

By Rachael Knowles

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