Community, Languages, Schools|

I think it’s so deadly because it helps with reviving culture and strengthening the identity of our Koorie students!

– Daria Atkinson Melbourne Metro LAECG Chair

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.

The Woiwurrung Language Program at Thornbury Primary School strongly complements the school’s culturally inclusive curriculum and follows on from the school’s long-established Indigenous Studies Program. Feedback from students, parents and teachers alike has been extremely positive, and it is not unusual to be welcomed at the school with ‘Wominjeka’ (welcome).

Woiwurrung Language lessons were initially conducted by Language teacher Uncle Phil Cooper and since early 2016 by lead teacher Terri Lee-Fitzpatrick, with the support of the school’s Woiwurrung Language team – a group made up of the language teacher, Wurundjeri Community members and language specialists, and a professional linguist. More recently, Wurundjeri pre-service teacher Rebecca Axford has joined the teaching team, to enrich the program with direct Wurundjeri involvement.

Lessons, which have a very strong cultural component, focus on traditional lands and cultural practices of the Wurundjeri People, Woiwurrung language, creation stories, fun language games, greetings, introductions and goodbyes, and topics such as Family and Country, Parts of the Body, Animal and Wurundjeri Plants – food, medicine, tools and shelters.

Lessons are also developed to complement key curriculum content and Enquiry Units such as ‘Seasons’, ‘Life Cycles’, ‘The Solar System’ and ‘Electricity’, providing Indigenous perspectives across all learning areas in the Victorian Curriculum.

Colourful artworks by students, embellished with Woiwurrung language hang in classrooms and along the corridors, and songs are composed to assist with learning and remembering.

The nearby Yappera Children and Family Centre’s 4-year old kinder cohort are involved in the Woiwurrung program. The group attend fortnightly. According to Terri Lee-Fitzpatrick “It was really good last year (2017). The kinder cohort came once a fortnight throughout the year. About five kids from that group started school at TPS in 2018, and it was fantastic. It really helped with their transitions. When they first came into the language class they were like ‘We know you!’ They knew yes and no, hello and welcome. Really made them feel confident.” The kinder group walk over from Yappera. Terri’s approach is mainly getting to know them, teaching basic greetings, body parts last year, singing songs – teaching language through songs, lots of stories and through the stories teaching for example animal names. Posters and language words made by Terri, were put around the centre by Yappera.

To hear a Woiwurrung counting song by the students at Thornbury Primary School click on here.

The Woiwurrung Language Program has also attracted innovative external education projects, such as the Koorie Languages in Education Digital project, in partnership between VACL and VAEAI, which resulted in the production of three Woiwurrung creation story apps narrated and illustrated by students with the expert help of Wurundjeri storyteller, artinst and language expert mandy Nicholson, and launched in April 2015.

Read about the digital Woiwurrung Creation Stories and dowload the free app here.

More recently the Sharing Stories Foundation (SSF) Digital Storytelling Program became involved with the Woiwurrung program, involving Year 5/6 students and Wurundjeri Elders. Through the SSF program students visited significant sites, learnt language and traditional stories, and also multiple new digital media skills that enhance digital literacies and support the production of creative digital interpretations of traditional stories in the long term. These stories are still a work in progress …

Parent of Yamaji/Koorie student at Thornbury Primary School and Language team member Vaso Elefsiniotis says she couldn’t be happier with the Woiwurrung Language Program and overall strong Koorie cultural focus at the school.

“When my son says hello to me in the morning and asks me how I am in Woiwurrung, ‘Wominjeka mummy, biladunjan warr?’ and dhagung or ngayi for no or yes when I say ‘Answer me yes or no’ to something, tells me about tarnuks and the many uses of coolamons, and brings me a paperbark gurrong, a canoe he made after watching a film about traditional canoe making in class, I’m stoked! The other day he said to me ‘You gotta listen to Bunjil’s call Mum, he teaches you.. .’, and asked me about his cultural animal, his totem. Wow! He’s only in prep, his first year and he loves being a Koorie kid at Thornbury Primary school!”

Lots of positive feedback comes to Terri Lee-Fitzpatrick from students and parents. Many students tell Terri that it’s the best part of their day or week, and many parents have come up to Terri and said, ‘Oh my child loves going to your class!’ Some feedback over the years from students, teachers and parents about the Thornbury Primary School Woiwurrung Language Program:

Students love it!

Interactive and fun.”

Class teachers are very supportive and try and use or incorporate language in their regular class – eg greetings and simple instructions.”

Family Day at Thornbury PS last year had a huge attendance (students were studying Our Mob about family and family members were invited to see the language programme in action).”

NAIDOC Day huge whole school celebration with emphasis on local language and culture.”

Koorie visitors are known and greeted appropriately and respectfully.”

Language is taken home, spoken & shared.

Students will correct teachers when English is spoken.”

Culturally people feel empowered. Very positive feedback from students and parents/carers – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”

Students love the language program – lessons are fun, interesting, creative etc.”

Very positive feedback from the Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship and DEECD Dep. Secretary during class visits.”

Positive feedback from Wurundjeri Community members (re Thornbury) involved in or hearing about the language program.”

Positive feedback from other Koorie community members.”

Positive feedback from the Director and staff of Yappera Children and Family Centre since the introduction of the program to the kindergarten cohort.

Glowing reviews about the public performance at the opening of the Puliima Indigenous Languages Conference.

Positive media attention (local newspapers and ABC news).”

Surprise by one parent expressed during a parent information session about the use of ICT and ipads in the Woiwurrung Language program – expected a more traditional story telling model.”

That parents are enrolling the children in our school specifically because of the language program, the Indigenous studies program and very involved Koorie Educator – increase in enrollments.

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