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International Mother Language Day to see calls for dual naming policies across Australia

Dechlan Brennan -

Victoria's First Peoples' Assembly will mark International Mother Language Day on Wednesday by calling for governments and other institutions to embrace Indigenous languages and dual naming policies.

Assembly co-chair Ngarra Murray said communities have worked tirelessly to safeguard their languages for future generations, despite historical attempts to eradicate their usage.

"Language is fundamental to our identity, communication, and storytelling," the Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa and Dja Dja Wurrung co-chair said.

"Incorporating First Peoples languages into the fabric of our society is not just about linguistic diversity, it's about respecting and celebrating the rich heritage of First Peoples."

Australia initiated strict and punitive measures to eradicate Indigenous languages in the 19th and 20th centuries - often denigrating Aboriginal children for speaking their mother tongue. Claims some languages simply faded away are dubious; many were actively eradicated.

The Commonwealth Office of Education explained its intention in 1953 by noting: "There is a need everywhere for a planned, vigorous and maintained drive for English." This saw the Federal Government ban Aboriginal languages in schools,

Missions, where Indigenous children were taken after being forcibly removed from their homes, openly attempted to phase out Aboriginal languages by replacing them with English. This was exacerbated by the removal of children from culture, community and Country, to implement English as the sole language.

Linguist Arthur Capell wrote in 1964: "Government policy looks forward to the loss of Aboriginal languages so that the Aborigines may be 'assimilated.'"

Ms Murray said she hoped to see more public places, including streets, schools and hospitals adorned "with names that recognise and celebrate the oldest living culture in the world".

"I believe it would help people connect with our cultures, it's sort of like an invitation to be part of it or at least learn more," she said.

Treaty negotiations to take place this year will likely see the discussion of dual naming policies.

"International Mother Language Day serves as a poignant reminder around the world that languages are repositories of knowledge and culture," the Assembly said.

"Recent initiatives to rename places in honour of First Peoples heritage signal a commitment to reconciliation and inclusivity."

Ms Murray said every name carries a story - a connection to the land and its custodians - and a dual-naming policy was a "small gesture" which would offer benefits that would permeate throughout generations.

"They'll help bring us all closer together, giving us something to share in and celebrate," she said.

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