Armidale group push to revive the ancient Aboriginal Anaiwan language

The Northern Tablelands is one of the worst hit areas for Aboriginal language and cultural loss in the state.

ANCIENT LANGUAGE REVIVAL: Brad Widders and linguist Callum Clayton-Dixon at the Anaiwan Language Symposium held at UNE on Wednesday night. Photo: Rachel Baxter.

ANCIENT LANGUAGE REVIVAL: Brad Widders and linguist Callum Clayton-Dixon at the Anaiwan Language Symposium held at UNE on Wednesday night. Photo: Rachel Baxter.

Now, a group of Anaiwan people are collaborating to revive the language which was the dominant local dialect for some 30,000 years before European settlement.

“I believe the significant loss of Anaiwan language has been the result of land clearing and dispossession of Aboriginal groups which happened at a far greater rate in the New England Tablelands than say the gorge country due to our ideal grazing conditions,” University of New England linguist researcher Callum Clayton-Dixon said.

“With disconnection from land comes loss of culture and loss of language and I believe there are parallels there.”

He said the initiative was a big step in terms of cultural language reclamation.

“Gamillaroy have a 3,000 word dictionary … we might end up with just under 500 words which to me is a good indication of how fast the language decline happened in this region,” he said.

But support is growing rapidly with around 80 people packing into the Oorala Aboriginal Centre at UNE on Wednesday night to learn about the project and the language.

Brad Widders has been working on the program since its inception almost two years ago.

“We wanted to talk to everyone about what we’ve been doing and what we have planned for the future,” he told The Express.

“It started about 18 months ago and luckily we had Callum to help us start to find some of the words.

“From there we got the idea to start revitalising the language through researching different archives throughout Australia.

“A group of us started getting together to map out how we were going to start revitalising the language and I guess it sort of snowballed from there.”

The next step is to renormalise the language through the Aboriginal community by engaging schools and the police boxing program.

The NSW Juvenile Justice Service have also contacted the group hoping for language classes.

They hope to put together lessons plans and start teaching Anaiwan language in Armidale after spring.

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