Aboriginal Languages Pilot Trials

Three Victorian schools are involved in an exciting Aboriginal languages program pilot that began in 2012 – Thornbury Primary School in Melbourne, Heywood & Districts Secondary College in Victoria's  south-west region, and most recently Swan Hill Primary School on the edge of the Murray River


Thornbury Primary School

Thornbury Primary School students – initially Prep - Year 2 and now extended throughout the school from Prep to Year 6 have been learning Woiwurrung, the language of the Wurundjeri People on a weekly basis since 2012; and to aid with school transitions and introduce lessons to younger learners, Koorie kindergarten students from the nearby Yappera Children and Family Centre have been participating in language classes at the school when able.

The Woiwurrung language program has attracted a lot of attention and publicity, with students involved in public language performances and events such as at the opening of the Puliima National Indigenous Languages Conference in 2013; to a visiting Chinese delegation at the Royal Melbourne Zoo, a ministerial visit, for an NITV crew filming a language class (regularly broadcasted on NITV) and a performance of the Woiwurrung children’s choir at the Winter Solstice festivities in the City of Melbourne.

For more about Thornbury Primary School’s Woiwurrung Language program click here.

Heywood and Districts Secondary College

At Heywood and Districts Secondary College (HDSC) in Victoria’s south-west, the Gunditjmara Languages Program, offered to all students in Years 7 and 8, and as an elective from Year 9, is in its fifth year. Year 8 students are offered two lessons per week, and Year 7 students, one lesson per week. Language and local Gunditjmara history is further incorporated into the Year 7 Integrated Studies program to cover the gap in classes and enrich students’ Koorie cultural learnings.

The Gunditjmara Languages Program, coordinated by program coordinator Stephanie Tashkoff is run by language teacher and Koorie Engagement Support Officer (KESO) Di Bell, and Joel Wright – Gunditjmara Languages specialist from the Laka Gunditj Language Program (VACL) – has also been assisting the school language program on a needs basis since the program commenced.

Significantly, during 2014 and early 2015, students at HDSC, and students from a number of primary schools in Warrnambool were involved in illustrating and narrating a number of Gunditjmara traditional and contemporary stories for the Commonwealth funded Koorie Languages in education digital project in partnership with VAEAI and the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for languages (VACL). The Gunditjmara story aps were officially launched in early November 2015 in Warrnambool.

According to the school’s Aboriginal Languages program coordinator Stephanie Tashkoff:

“For the school community overall, there is a sense of pride in being a school that offers a Koorie language; and being a school that is developing a sense of 'this is who we are'.”

For more about the Heywood and Districts Secondary College’s Gunditjmara Languages Program, click here.

Swan Hill Primary School

In 2014, Swan Hill Primary School became the third school to take part in a pilot trial to introduce Aboriginal languages in Victorian schools with School Council, Traditional Owner and LAECG endorsement.

Wemba Wemba language, traditionally spoken in and around the Swan Hill (Wanilu) region was originally taught by Wemba Wemba Elder Aunty Stephanie Charles and more recently co-taught by school-based Koorie Educator and Community Engagement Officer Andrew Cameron, with the support of Aunty Stephanie Charles, Wemba Wemba VACL Elder and Language Worker Aunty Fay Muir and the direct linguistic and resource support of VAEAI.

Since the program began, students have learnt about how to acknowledge Country in Wemba Wemba, about surrounding language groups, the importance of family and correct terms for family and kin, common birds and animals, those of particular cultural significance, numbers and been on a combination of incursions and excursions..

For more about the Swan Hill Primary School Wemba Wemba Program, click here.