NewsWednesday 06 Jul 2016

Aboriginal language teacher celebrates her songline

For Aboriginal Learning Circle - North Coast TAFE Aboriginal language teacher Rhonda Radley, the songlines theme for this year’s NAIDOC week celebration is especially poignant.

“The theme songlines is very close to my heart because a songline is a map of our land and our connection to language is so important to our songlines,” she says.

“When you’re singing in your songline, it tells you about your land, where the resources are and where the sacred sites are.

“There’s a lot of information in a songline and the songlines go all around Australia criss-crossing the different languages.

“This week, we can have a conversation about our songlines, about what we’ve retained and what we’ve lost.

“If you lose your song, in a spiritual way you lose your connection to country and when you lose your country, you lose your way.

“That’s why it’s imperative to revive our language, so that we can keep our songlines strong.”

It’s no wonder Rhonda is so passionate about songlines, as she spends a large chunk of her time teaching the Aboriginal Learning Circle - North Coast TAFE local Gathang language program in Port Macquarie, in between studying a Masters in Indigenous Language Education at Sydney University.

Rhonda’s journey at Port Macquarie TAFE Campus began in 1990, when she won the Student of the Year award while studying fashion design and her coxswain certificate, and since then she has continued at TAFE in various teaching and Aboriginal support roles.
“I teach the Gathang language at Port Macquarie TAFE to Aboriginal students with all different backgrounds, some are in education, but all are interested in learning their local language,” she explains.

“For me, there’s a lot of satisfaction in watching my students become fluent speakers because often at first they’re reluctant to make the sounds because they’re totally different sounds to English.

“It’s great to see my students explore the different sounds and then become confident saying the words.

“People keep coming back too once they’ve graduated, because they want to practice the language.

“I’ve always enjoyed the learning journey, even as a teacher I learn so much from my students.”

Part of her class’s preparations for NAIDOC week included translating their Acknowledgement of Country into the Gathang language.

“The hardest part is getting their tongue around the different sounds in the language,” she says.

“Language and culture fit right together. Our language is what things mean to us, it’s more than the word.”

“So if we are learning the word for tree, it’s not just the word, it’s everything that a tree is to us in our culture, it’s shelter, medicine, food, it’s our transport with a canoe. The language captures all of that, it’s not just a word.”

“It’s taken so long to get to this point with the revival of our language, and we can now connect back to our culture, we can practice the language and that gives us a stronger connection to our culture.”

Rhonda has a strong presence in the local Aboriginal women’s group Djiyagan Dhanbaan, which translates to Strong Sister.

“To bring that women’s business back, teaching our culture and language to girls and women, we can see the women growing and they’re so happy and proud to have that connection to their local Aboriginal culture, and to their songline.”

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