Thursday, 25 August 2016

Learning Ancient language on Country

by Jonathan Cassell

Out of respect to Gumbaynggirr People and Country, I say Giinagay Ngujawiny (Hello everyone!).

Greens Candidate Jonathan Cassell with Mr Clark Webb

When I first started learning the Gumbaynggirr language, I was sitting in at the Mid North Coast TAFE class with 6-8 other students. The class was mostly made up of Gumbaynggirr people but my partner and I sat eagerly watching our energetic Gumbaynggirr teacher. 

As the weeks passed we learnt language, sang songs both traditional and new, and deepened cultural understandings for the Gumbaynggirr people. I found the language instantly rich in depth and yet relatively straight forward. The most difficult aspect of learning any language, I have found, is training the tongue and mouth to move sounds in new ways. It was certainly no different here!

The language in the early days was also difficult to internalise because very few people speak Gumbaynggirr locally and nobody in my immediate circle. This leant me to be drawn more so to the cultural values associated with shape and form of the Gumbaynggirr language. What impressed upon me most in regard to the underpinnings of the language was that it came directly from country. There is a Gumbaynggirr story about how language came to be that exists between major bindarray (rivers) in the area made in relation to territory marked out by an ancestor. Essentially, each Gumbaynggirr word is a life form rising out of the land as rivers, plants and animals also take their place. 

The Gumbaynggirr people embody their language and they in turn are embodied by the land. This ancient language cannot be used to simply colonise other landscapes or foreign places; unlike English. It is of this region and for this region!

As a decendant of white Australia, I have spent two years taking classes. Most of my classes have been informal at the Wongala Estate with a strong mob of local Gumbaynggirr people young and old. Language needs to be held in community and not merely institutionalised. This is my latest learning and it makes sense. Learning language needs to have a cultural context in order to respect its origins and future. It is not just a case of memorising words and grammar. You can’t separate Gumbaynggirr language from its people or their land. It is not good enough to learn and teach Gumbaynggirr language and not also reconcile to the heart of this ancient land and its people, The Gumbaynggirr. Reconciliation is with land, language, and new ways of seeing!

Thank you to my Gumbaynggirr teachers David Prosser, Clark Webb and Uncle Barry Hoskins.