Laurie Baymarrwangga Senior Australian of the Year has called attention to the grave threat to Australia’s indigenous languages. She continues to work to capture her own language of which she is one of the last speakers. She highlights the importance of Australia’s Indigenous languages as the vehicle for the unique local knowledge, art and culture of place. She says it is important to act to support bilingual education now so other indigenous people and Australian as a nation save their living languages now. These languages contain the local ecological knowledge and dance, art and songs of country that are the treasure of our distinctive national cultural heritage.
Dr Bentley James who has been working with Baymarrwangga for nearly twenty years says ‘these languages, thousands of years in the making, include some of the rarest and most linguistically and culturally distinctive in the world’. There are over a hundred living indigenous languages and dialects spoken in the NT mostly on the 500 or so homelands and small communities of less than 100 people. Dr James says ‘Homelands provide vital services to the Australian taxpayer in heritage and language preservation, environmental management, health and education outcomes that help ‘close the gap’ for a fraction of the cost. The 95 yo senior Australian of the Year says all Australians should get behind the homelands movement for all our children’s children’s sake. For Australia’s future a stronger environmental, cultural and economic future will require more investment in the homelands not less.