Dhangum djorra'wuy dhawu
: the development of writing in Aboriginal languages in S.A. and the N.T. since colonisation

  • Mary-Anne Gale

    Student thesis: Other thesis - CDU


    The purpose of this thesis is to review the developments that have occurred in writing in Australian Aboriginal languages in South Australia and the Northern Territory since colonisation. These developments manifest themselves in three historical phases, including the early Bible translations of the mission days, later school-based productions for use in bilingual education programs, and a third phase that is only just emerging where Aboriginal people themselves are detennining the direction, content, style and function of vernacular writing. The hope is that this thesis will fill a gap in the academic literature that has so far failed (with a few notable exceptions) to acknowledge and discuss vernacular productions with the seriousness they deserve.

    Much of the emerging Australian 'Black literature' of today, including both English and vernacular-English diglot productions, are to a large extent politically motivated with the choice of an Aboriginal language medium being very much a part of that message. Other more locally oriented vernacular productions, such as community newsletters, magazines and workshop reports, commonly adopt a reportage-style, but go well beyond merely reporting about an event, workshop, activity or incident. They also serve to celebrate, consolidate, highlight, assert, reminisce, commemorate, reclaim or maintain some issue or aspect of Aboriginal identity and cultural life. At an academic level, such productions challenge the western notion of what constitutes real 'literature', by demonstrating that a print media dominated by ephemeral productions is still a valid and meaningful realisation of literature.

    Chapter one states and rationalises the research topic, then goes on to contextualise the two focus communities of Yirrkala and Willowra. Chapter two addresses the theoretical issues of literacy and literature being imposed on or adopted by minority language communities with no literary tradition. Chapter three details the research methods employed. The next two chapters trace the historical context that ultimately led to the contemporay productions of today. Chapter four reviews the Christianising phase of linguistic and Bible translation work that began in S.A. with the arrival of the first Lutheran missionaries in 1838, and in the N.T. with the arrival of a Catholic priest in 1846. Vernacular products of this phase were initiated by the missionaries themselves with the explicit aim of 'Christianising' Aboriginal people. Chapter five goes on to review the assortment of vernacular books produced during the Educating phase, which is largely associated with the introduction of bilingual education in the N.T. from 1973, but also with earlier schooling at Ernabella mission in S.A. The subsequent 'flood of literature' included: primers, repetitive readers, transcribed oral stories and translated English classics, all largely aimed at children.

    Chapter six focuses on the Aboriginalising phase. It reviews and discusses, in particular, the significant productions currently emanating from Yirrkala, but also discusses contemporary developments at Willowra, and parallel developments in a number of other communities in S.A. and the N.T. It is revealed that the form, content and style of much of the literature now emerging from Aboriginal schools and communities, which are coming under increasing Aboriginal control, invariably differ to the written products of earlier years. The thesis concludes with a final chapter that expresses the hope that Aboriginal individuals, schools and communities will continue to explore, challenge and freely develop the print media to meet their own aspirations through writing in their own languages. It also cautions against any unnecessary influence that the genres of English, or current. mainstream pedagogical theory, may have on contemporary vernacular writing; because slowly but surely an important vehicle of communication is emerging in Aboriginal Australia that is developing a range of meaningful Aboriginal forms and functions that are worthy of serious academic consideration and celebration.

    Date of Award1992
    Original languageEnglish

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