Saltwater Freshwater promotes and facilitates the revitalisation of Aboriginal language via language workshops and projects. The language component of our projects consists of Elders storytelling in language and the youth then using language during the workshops, such as dance and singing in traditional language.

Aunty Rhonda Radley, of Port Macquarie, a Birpai woman and prominent figure in work to revitalise the Gathang language on the Mid North Coast, explains the significance of Aboriginal people learning and speaking the language of their land.

“It brings Aboriginal people closer to their land, their mob and culture,”

“Aboriginal languages are quite different around Australia because the landforms are just so different. The land itself holds its own vibration, and the language of the land connects to that vibration. That’s why I feel it really makes us strong as Aboriginal people to speak the language of the land that we’re on – because it is literally connecting you to Murrawarri, Mother Earth.”

Aunty Rhonda, Biripai Elder

Aunty Rhonda holds a Masters in Indigenous Language Education and teaches Gathang – which is spoken in the Biripai, Worimi and Guringay nations and is taught at schools and and TAFE. She also collaborates in a stakeholder group at Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Centre on the continued development of a Gathang dictionary.

Learning Aboriginal language is about much more than words, syntax and grammar rules, she says. Actual spiritual concepts, as well as an entire cultural mindset, are contained within the words.

“Aboriginal languages and words reflect the natural world and our interconnected relationships within that. It’s quite a different language culture from English. Learners often start out thinking in the English way, but once they start really connecting with the language, we tell them ‘you’ve got to start to think blackfella way’.

“It goes back into that vibration of the land. So a “tree” in blackfella way is much more than just a tree – it’s something to be honoured and to be respected because it gives us so much. The language reflects how we look at a tree as something that’s meant to be there for our survival: it gives us oxygen, shelter, fire, medicine, implements and so on.”

Uncle Michael Jarrett, Gumbaynggirr Elder and language workshop facilitator