Arabana language revival continues

REVIVAL: Over 100 Arabana adults, teens and kids gathered together to learn from speakers at two four-day language camps at Kati Thanda.
REVIVAL: Over 100 Arabana adults, teens and kids gathered together to learn from speakers at two four-day language camps at Kati Thanda.

The Arabana language is estimated to have less than 15 fluent speakers remaining, but the situation has been improving in recent years due to a strong focus on language revival from within the community.

Arabana originates from the Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre) region of South Australia, but the people are widespread.

Collaboratively they have developed an online language learning resource, including voice recordings, videos and text.

In April and June 2019 over 100 Arabana adults, teens and kids gathering together to learn from speakers at two four-day language camps at Kati Thanda.

Mobile Language Team Linguist Eleanor McCall has worked extensively alongside the Arabana community since 2016, and was able to observe the success of the language camps first-hand.

"Language activities on-country allows people to connect language to country. During the camps, the speakers were able to take their grandchildren to significant places to tell them the ularaka (history) of the place, and teach them the traditional names in Arabana language," Ms McCall said.

"This type of activity is so important. Knowledge of language, country and family are crucial to a person's identity and sense of belonging."

Language speakers Sydney Strangways, Dean Stuart, Mervyn Dodd and Lionel Dodd organised and ran the two camps.

The speakers took attendees out to significant sites in and around Kati-Thanda to teach placenames, sing related songs and tell stories of life on-country.

Back at the campgrounds at old Finniss Springs Station (50km west of Marree), Lionel sat with children and teens to carve and decorate clapping sticks made from the mulga wood they had collected earlier in the day.

Mervyn pulled up a chair and drew tracks in the sand, encouraging the kids to shout out the names of the correct animal in language.

A group of older boys cooked kangaroo tails in the creek bed, talking and laughing with cousins they hadn't seen for years.

Arabana woman Dr Veronica Arbon is a strong supporter of the Arabana language revival programme.

"It's great to get everyone together to do something so positive, often we only get to see family during funerals," she said.

"These kids will remember being here on country doing this language with the Elders for the rest of their lives.

"We've come together with language learning as our goal, but it's become so much more than that, with relationships, story and history entwined at the core. I'm honoured and moved by what has been achieved. "