At 97 Laurie Baymarrwangga saw the arrival of the first missionaries, the bombing of Milingimbi, started an island homeland, a school, a ranger program, a turtle sanctuary, saved her language, created ‘language nests’ and a trilingual dictionary and is still not giving up. The 2012 Senior Australian of the Year now wants to provide a trilingual Yan-nhangu dictionary to children for free.
Laurie Baymarrwangga has been working on a trilingual Yan-nhangu dictionary project entitled The Yan-nhangu Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands to support homelands and bilingual language education. 1n 1993 there were only 300 of her words documented now she has recorded some four thousand containing the local knowledge of uncounted generations. Learning local language, aside from the positive health outcomes and psychological resilience attending bilingualism, promotes the intergenerational transmission of local knowledge to a new generation. This dictionary brings together two Yolngu languages, Yan-nhangu and Dhuwal/a (7000 speakers) with English, as a learning resource to fill the vacuum left by removal of Bilingual education. Baymarrwangga plans to give this beautiful full colour dictionary to all Yolngu children, their schools and homelands throughout the region as a gift before Christmas 2013.
Laurie’s concern for her country’s vibrant linguistic and customary heritage generated a family of interrelated projects designed to support language, livelihoods and homelands. These initiative aim to skill and employ people on country, follow traditional law, and protect the linguistic, cultural and biological diversity of the Islands. Her initiative to nurture local diversity resonates with the global need to find a sustainable future. Her work is about practical engagement with livelihoods activity on country and includes a Ranger Program. In 2011 this initiative won her the NT innovation ‘Life Time Achievement Award’ for services to country.
The Ranger Program she started with her own money was formally launched in 2010, after a decade of struggle. In 2012 it won the Ministers award for Outstanding Team Achievement in the NT Ranger Awards. The Crocodile Islands Rangers now protect more than 10,000km2 of sea country with 250km2 of registered sacred sites. Caring for some of the last breeding and nesting places of many endangered species including a 1000km2 turtle sanctuary. The Rangers are working to improve economic, social and cultural wellbeing by providing meaningful employment and education through dedicated language and cultural programs. These programs are set to manage, conserve and enhance the natural marine resources and traditional ecological knowledge living inside local languages.
‘Big Boss’ as she is affectionately known says ‘Homelands are at the heart of our country’. Knowing country depends upon complex cultural relationships linked to living on homelands, and provides vital services to the Australian nation in heritage preservation, environmental management services and biodiversity. What’s more homelands provide better health and education outcomes, not to mention the jewels of our national cultural heritage and arts. They are the sites for transfer of the oldest living traditions, deep cultural knowledge and globally rare Indigenous languages. These relationships are assured on the homelands where positive engagement with country life promotes their vitality but they are under serious threat. At 97 she persists to struggle against forced assimilation and the destruction of indigenous languages in an effort to save her culture, country and a diverse inheritance for all our futures.
Please help us support her.