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Australia’s indigenous languages are being brought to life in 3D animations

Geordie Cowan, September 23, 2019 6:45PM Monash Leader

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The tongue of the Rainbow Serpent flashes like lightning in this still from the animation of The Dreamings from the Saltwater Country. Picture: Wununguru Awara/Monash University media_cameraThe tongue of the Rainbow Serpent flashes like lightning in this still from the animation of The Dreamings from the Saltwater Country. Picture: Wununguru Awara/Monash University

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Animators are bringing extinct and endangered indigenous languages from across Australia to life.

The 3D animations are part of Monash University’s Wunungu Awara project, which has already made 17 films telling stories from all over the country in their traditional languages. There are, for instance, Dreaming stories about how people found fire in the language of the Taungurung of Victoria, of how the brolga came to Yanyuwa country around Booroloola in the Northern Territory and created lakes and lagoons, and an animated reconstruction of the massive double outrigger canoes used by Torres Strait Islander communities.

VIDEO: Part of The Dreamings from the Saltwater Country animation

The Dreamings from the Saltwater Country

Project manager Fred Leone said the work was important “because without language, the culture ceases to exist”.

“Language connects people with the land, country, nature, animals,” he said.

“Language preservation*, cultural maintenance and language revitalisation* is a really important factor in indigenous people being able to retain* the language, which is rapidly disappearing.”

This still was taken from the 3D animation for the Wilingarra community. media_cameraThis still was taken from the 3D animation for the Wilingarra community.

Estimates of the number of indigenous languages before European settlement in Australia vary, but more than 250 languages is a generally accepted number.

There were also many hundreds of dialects — regional variations — of these languages.

Only around 120 are still spoken and about 90 per cent of these are endangered, according to the Australian Government Department of Communication and the Arts.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies understands only 13 languages are still being learned by children. If a language is not being learned by children it means it is in danger of extinction.

3D indigenous language media_cameraFred Leone with 3D animations that are being used to help preserve indigenous languages at Monash University, Victoria. Picture: Valeriu Campan

The Wunungu Awara program started in 2011 when founder, Monash University Associate Professor John Bradley, who had spent about 30 years in Yanyuwa country, spoke to elders and discovered they wanted a way to preserve the language and pass it on to the next generation in a way that was interactive for young people.

The animations are part entertainment, part educational tool and are a way of attracting interest in the languages and cultures.

Mr Leone said the process was community driven and the community gets the final sign-off on the animations, most of which run for between two to five minutes.

“Once finished, the copyright* and intellectual property* rights remain within the community,” he said.

“People from the outside world can reference the stories and languages on our website, but communities use it internally as language preservation tools, as teaching tools.

“If a song or story is disappearing, the community is able to hold on to that knowledge and pass it on.”

There are more animations planned after a boost in funding* from the Alan and Elizabeth Finkel Foundation.

You can see all the animations at arts.monash.edu/monash-indigenous-studies/wunungu-awara/animations

An example of some of the imagery used in the 3D animations. media_cameraAn example of some of the imagery used in the 3D animations.

GLOSSARY

  • preservation: the act of preserving something for the future
  • revitalisation: bringing something back to life
  • retain: keep
  • copyright: the legal right to publish, print, perform or show something
  • intellectual property: an idea or product made from a creative process. Copyrights and patents are ways of recognising intellectual property
  • funding: paying for something

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. Where is Yanyuwa country?
  2. What, in Fred Leone’s words, does language connect people to?
  3. How many indigenous languages were spoken in Australia before 1788?
  4. How many indigenous Australian languages are still being learned by children?
  5. Who founded this program and when?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Dreamings of Saltwater Country
Dreamings of the Saltwater Country (Narnu-Yuwa ki Anthaa) included in the article above speaks of the animals that can be found in Yanyuwa country. Listen to the song and read the subtitles to find out what animals where found in this area.

Draw a picture that depicts all the animals mentioned in the song. Label your picture with what the song tells us the animals are doing. (For example, the Rainbow Serpent’s tongue can be seen flashing like lightning.)

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, The Arts – Visual Arts, Intercultural understanding, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

2. Extension
Discuss with a partner why it is important to maintain the traditional languages and cultures of our first people both for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-indigenous Australians.

Use an indigenous map of Australia (that shows how it was divided by the traditional owners) to find out where Yanyuwa country is.

Next locate the area of Australia where you currently live. What is the name of the indigenous tribe that lived or continues to live in this part of Australia.

Find out 5 interesting things about this indigenous group.

You might find out things such as

  • what style were their paintings
  • learn some words from the traditional language
  • read a traditional story etc

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Intercultural understanding, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

VCOP ACTIVITY
Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.

How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).

Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing?

What are they?

Can you sort them into their categories?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Is it important to you to preserve indigenous languages? Why or why not?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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