The town of Broome in Western Australia is pushing to become the first bilingual town in Australia by teaching all kids Yawuru, the local indigenous language. Even the town’s street signs are now in both Yawuru and English. We checked in with one school there to find out more. But first a warning to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers, this story contains images of people who’ve died.
Here at Cable Beach Primary School, these guys are learning things a bit differently.
This lesson’s being taught almost entirely in Yawuru.
STUDENT: These are some of the plant names that we’ve learnt from our Yawuru teacher.
Yawuru’s an Aboriginal language that’s been spoken by Broome’s traditional owners for tens of thousands of years.
STUDENT: We learn lots of different stuff. We learn about the seasons, the fruit, our families.
STUDENT: How to count.
STUDENT: Family, fishing, the plants.
STUDENT: My favourite subject is learning about the animals.
STUDENT: It’s just great!
Some of these guys already speak some Yawuru at home. But for others, it’s a whole new set of words and sounds and a new way of looking at the world.
STUDENT: It’s important for young people like me to learn Yawuru because it’s a dying language.
STUDENT: It makes me feel important because I’m keeping Yawuru alive.
STUDENT: I think learning about Yawuru is important because we need more younger people to learn it because the language itself is fading.
STUDENT: When we grow up we can teach the younger ones.
There are a number of schools around Australia that teach local indigenous languages, but what sets Broome apart, is that every kid in every school in town, is learning the same language.
They say it’s part of a big push to make Broome the first bilingual town in Australia, meaning everybody will be able to speak two languages.
It hasn’t always been this way for the Yawuru language. Dianne grew up in Broome back in the 60s, when things were very different for the indigenous population. She says they weren’t treated very well and for a long time her family wasn’t even allowed to speak Yawuru words in public.
DIANNE APPLEBY, YAWURU CULTURAL OFFICER: When you think about the history, Aboriginal people were never allowed to speak their language. That’s another discussion you know, things that have happened had a negative impact on our culture with all those acts and policies.
Fast forward to 2006 and the language was close to being lost forever. So, Dianne and a bunch of elders got together to save it. They helped to set up the Yawuru cultural centre, and now the language is coming back in a big way. You can see it everywhere. It’s in the parks and on street signs and with 1000 kids now learning the language too, Yawuru culture will stick around for many years to come.
STUDENTS: Gala warrji! Galiya!