Feature storyClosing the Gap

Keeping Noongar language alive

The Noongar language is in good hands.

The once-strong Noongar language is now endangered but action is underway to turn that around.

The community-based Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project began after elders were connected with 1930s recordings of traditional stories told by their ancestors.

In an emotional journey, Noongar author Kim Scott helped track down the storytellers’ descendants and shared the stories with their family groups.

“We’re handing those stories back to people and people are crying and saying things like, ‘we only get together at a funeral these days’,” Kim says. “This is family, this is clan; it’s a wonderful thing.

“We get together around bringing stories back to life and bringing language back to life and making ourselves collectively an instrument for sound and the spirit of place. I think that’s why it’s always so emotional.”

The stories have now been workshopped with elders and other community members and reproduced in English and Noongar in illustrated books.

Kim’s is one of several language revival projects in Perth.

Noongar language teacher Charmaine Bennell is part of the Danjoo Mooridiyap Dabakaran Noongar language project, which operates in partnership with Batchelor Institute in the Northern Territory and Perth’s Noongar Radio.

Bennell delivers short “easy” language lessons on Noongar Radio to make her language “accessible to the wider community”.

She says Noongar people who learn their traditional language not only strengthen their culture but increase their employment opportunities.

“You can get jobs in radio, you can do translation for old people, you can do research, you can be a linguist,” she says. “Learn something that really belongs to you, about your mum and dad and your history and then you can pass that on.

“I want our language to be a surviving and thriving thing that’s every day; kids saying hello to each other in language, greeting family in language, able to converse in language, just off the cuff. I want to see our language alive and present, not just in our history books.”

Skip past social media sharing

Find out more

The Australian Government supports the Danjoo Mooridiyap Dabakaran project and the revival of Noongar language through the Indigenous Languages Support Program.

The Australia Council for the Arts funded the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project.

More stories on this week’s Indigenous.gov.au feature on the Noongar community

Western view: Perth’s Noongar community, young Noongar futures & Family inspires good health