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Reclaiming a lost language

CULTURE

A nearly extinct Aboriginal language has been reclaimed. The Yuwi dialect — from Queensland’s tropical north — has been resurrected to such an extent that it is once again being used in Welcome to Country ceremonies. Welcome to Country is incorporated into official meetings and events in Australia as a way of recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of the land.


Speaking to the ABC, one of a group of people who campaigned to recover the Yuwi language, Veronica Ah Wang, said delivering Welcome to Country in her native language added a profundity to the proceedings. “All our ancestors they were just gone . . . you don't get a lot of written work about them and if we can bring back just that little bit, hopefully they are happy with what we come up with and we do them proud.” Furthermore, she said speaking Yuwi makes her feel grounded. “It gives you a sense of belonging and connection. You’re connecting with the audience, you’re connecting with the land, the sea, wherever you are.”


The process of saving a long-forgotten language is complex and involves the help of a linguist who listens to old tape recordings. First, individual words have to be identified, then the correct pronunciation has to be learned before complete sentences can be formed. But Ah Wang, along with other Elders in the region, are hopeful they will be able to pass the recovered language onto the next generation of Yuwi descendants. “My son now says 'ngandadyi mum' instead of hello, and that makes my heart proper proud.”


ABOVE Veronica Ah Wang


| Watch Yuibera traditional custodians Deb Netuschil and Phillip Kemp read the Yuwi translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to children at the Mackay Children and Family Centre


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