Aboriginal artwork of echidna

Learning our country’s past for a better tomorrow

3 June 2020
Indigenous language and cultural study experts share important perspectives
Through interdisciplinary partnership, students learn first-hand insights about language maintenance and cultural preservation.

In the spirit of the 2020 National Reconciliation Week’s theme In This Together, the School of Languages and Cultures and School of Education and Social Work collaborated to provide students with a window into Australia’s linguistic and cultural history.

In a special session on language hybrids and cultural fusions within the new Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Languages) degree, Gamilaraay language activist Tracey Cameron joined teaching staff and students to share her family history and wider community work.

Headshot of Tracey Cameron

Gamilaraay woman and language educator Tracey Cameron

Gamilaraay, also known as Kamilaroi and Gomeroi, is an Aboriginal language from north-western New South Wales. Just a few years ago it was facing extinction. Tracey Cameron is at the forefront to strengthen their community’s language and culture.

She led students in the exploration on the historical significance of land and community, the importance of preserving Indigenous languages and cultures in the post-colonial context, and their current position within formal educational systems.

“Tracey fielded specific questions from our class according to her expertise,” reflected first-year Languages student Sanya. “She spoke to us as both a language teacher and Gamilaraay woman – from her acknowledgement of Country to fascinating stories.”

The personal nature in hearing directly from experts in Indigenous Studies gave weight to our individual reflection which simple textbook study could not have given us.
Sanya Kulshreshtha, Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Languages) student

Tracey Cameron teaches a unit of study on learning an Australian language. It is one of a few Aboriginal language study offerings in Australian universities.

Susan Poetsch, Program Director of the Master of Indigenous Languages Education, joined Tracey to share multifaceted perspectives and actions to address a range of issues facing Australia. This includes the need to invest in language revitalisation, as well as supporting the unique cultures, identities, rights and self-determination of Indigenous Australians.

“Our work in educating students is intensely multidisciplinary – combining historical and linguistic inquiry and research tools, as well as carefully applied Indigenous studies methodologies,” said Susan. “It is also intensively collaborative – involving Gamilaraay community members and leaders, musicians, artists, as well as schools, TAFE and other universities.”

“Driven by academic and community-based work, Tracey and colleagues in Indigenous Studies and Aboriginal Education envision social change in our immediate future to make a positive difference in people’s lives.”

According to Languages degree lecturer Dr Benjamin Nickl, understanding the “limits of easy multiculturalism” is vital to observing how languages can collide and fuse to form new meanings – particularly in the context of globalisation and a multilingual Australia.

The Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Languages) allows you to combine your passion for languages and cultures with practical skills in multilingual translation and high-level intercultural competency.

Image: © Mawu-gi Gamilaraay Aboriginal Art by Brent Emerson. Used with permission for the University of Sydney's School of Languages and Cultures.

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