At the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-op, Dallas Walker plays a very important part in keeping the local Gumbaynggirr language alive, as head teacher, researcher and consultant.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
My connection to this country is my ancestry – a sense of belonging.
What happens at the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-op?
Muurrbay deals with both culture and language. Muurrbay functions as a regional language centre, encompassing seven languages between the QLD border and the Hawkesbury River. We have published dictionaries for all the languages, and we are hoping to train people from each of the language groups in teaching techniques so that they can function independently. Muurrbay also helps organisations, government and non-government with wording for signage, as well as any general translation tasks.
What is your role, and what inspires you to do this?
I have a few, but my main role is head teacher, researcher and consultant for doing such things as signage work around the Nambucca Shire. My inspiration is that our language lives on for generations to come.
Where is the Gumbaynggirr language spoken, and are there different dialects?
From the Nambucca River to the Lower Clarence River and as far west as Guyra. There are three dialects – Northern, Northern Lowlands and Southern Gumbaynggirr.
Can you share a few Gumbaynggirr words and their English translations?
Muurrbay = the tree of life or white fig tree
Ngaya = I as I myself
Ngiinda = you
Nyaaga = look ngarraanga = listen and miindalay = learn
Why is it important to teach and maintain language? What are some of the different ways you and Muurrbay do this?
If the language is lost, then it’s gone forever, and then so is our culture and our self-identity.
We teach the language through total immersion – only speaking Gumbaynggirr, Total Physical Response (TPR) activities, which are based on the co-ordination of language and physical movement, and teaching in schools and at Muurrbay. Also, getting out into the community or just being with family are good ways to maintain the language.
Who can enrol in the Certificate III in Gumbaynggirr Language and Culture Maintenance, and what will they learn?
Mainly people of Gumbaynggirr descent and Aboriginal Education Officers enrol in the course. But anyone, really; we have to keep the language alive.
Students in the Cert III Gumbaynggirr course are taught how to speak in language, learn the grammar, and then be capable of teaching it with a cultural context. They should be able to “talk to” the language; in other words, explain why “x” or “y” happens in a language sentence.
What further opportunities does this knowledge open up to graduates?
It gives the students a chance to find employment in schools and other places or even just teaching their kids at home, which is where it should start.
What is the best part of mentoring students in this course?
The satisfaction you get from interacting with students, teaching what I have learned and knowing we are keeping our language and culture alive.
Can you tell us about Gumbaynggirr Yuludarla: Dreaming Stories from the East Coast, which was launched in February 2017?
It’s a collection of stories recorded by linguists as far back as the early 1900s, manuscripts written down by an American-German by the name of Gerhardt Laves and also transcripts recorded in the 1960s and ’70s. It took a team of us about five years to put it together. Thank Yuludarla it’s finished and published for sale.
Are there other Gumbaynggirr language publications or resources available to the general public?
Muurrbay has published two main texts, the Gumbaynggirr Dictionary and Grammar and the Collection of Gumbaynggirr Dreaming Stories. There is also a Gumbaynggirr Songbook.
Where can people find out more?
We like to be at the opening of signage at places like Mutton Bird Island, where we can explain to the wider community that the site is part of a longer story and there are such things as Saltwater-Freshwater that celebrate culture.
Visit the Muurrbay website: muurrbay.org.au, phone (02) 6569 4294 or even visit us at 14 Bellwood Road, Nambucca Heads.