Growth in Aboriginal Languages

a female aboriginal teacher with young students in a classroom

The VCAA has long supported Victorian Aboriginal Languages in schools. Through learning the traditional languages of this country, students gain access to knowledge and understanding of Australia that can only come from an Aboriginal perspective. This can play an important part in the development of a strong sense of identity, pride and self-esteem for all Australian students.

In 2004, the VCAA accredited the VCE Indigenous Languages of Victoria: Revival and Reclamation Study Design, and in 2009 the AusVELS Aboriginal Languages, cultures and reclamation in Victorian schools: standards P–10 and protocols was published. In 2016, the Victorian Curriculum F–10 – Victorian Aboriginal Languages replaced the 2009 AusVELs document.

In 2012, the first schools to teach the AusVELS curriculum were the pilot schools Thornbury Primary School and Heywood and District Secondary College. Thornbury Primary School initially taught the Woiwurrung language to students in the first few years of primary school. Due to student demand, it was quickly extended to the entire school. Teacher Terri Lee-Fitzpatrick enjoys working with members of the Wurundjeri community, the Traditional Owners of the country on which the school stands. Heywood and District Seconday College students learn Dhauwurd Wurrung, the local language, from teachers Steph Tashkoff and Aunty Di Bell, in Years 7 and 8.

Today, with the support of local Aboriginal communities, eight Victorian Aboriginal Languages are taught in 10 schools across Victoria. Bright P–12 College teaches both the VCE study and the F–10 curriculum in Dhudhuroa and Murrinh-patha. The latter is the language of Wadeye in the Northern Territory. Dallas Mugarra from Wadeye works as a language assistant to teachers Sue Joyce and Bec Crawford while he continues his own further study. Students from Year 8 onwards can learn the local language and culture. Wooragee Primary School has recently introduced Dhudhuroa and Murrinh-patha as their language program, ably taught by Bec and Dallas.

All Mildura Primary School students learn Barkindji-Marawara from Uncle Ivan Johnson, an experienced language teacher who greatly enjoys sharing his knowledge with staff and students.

The local Yorta Yorta people in Shepparton are strong supporters of Gowrie Street Primary School's Yorta Yorta language program. All students in the school learn about the local language and culture from teachers Annette Tricario and Roxanne Atkinson.

Aunty Steph Charles initiated the Wemba Wemba program at Swan Hill Primary School, where Andrew Cameron teaches a cohort of 79 students who have been learning the language since 2013.

Paynesville Primary School began teaching GunnaiKurnai last year. Kerry Walters, with the support of Elder Russell Mullett, teaches all students from Prep to Year 6. GunnaiKurnai has also been taught at Bruthen Primary School since 2017. Teacher and Traditional Owner Nikki Hood shares her traditional language and culture with her Year 3/4 class. Several other schools in Gippsland are hoping to introduce GunnaiKurnai as their language program.

The newest Victorian Aboriginal Language program is at Buxton Primary School, where all students learn Taungurung from Elder Aunty Lee Healey, who is assisted by Principal Andrew Bagnall. Aunty Lee taught Aboriginal culture to the students for some time before introducing Taungurung.

If you would like to know more about introducing a Victorian Aboriginal Language in your school, please contact Julie Reid on (03) 9032 1679, or email: reid.julie.j@edumail.vic.gov.au. Information can also be found on the Aboriginal Languages and Culture Victoria webpage.

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