Indigenous Literacy Day 2019

Today, Wednesday 4 September, is Indigenous Literacy Day, which the Indigenous Literary Foundation (ILF) describes as “a national celebration of Indigenous culture, stories, language and literacy”. The day is intended to both promote awareness of disadvantage in indigenous communities, and to  “encourage the rest of Australia to raise funds and advocate for more equal access to literacy resources for remote communities.”

I have been donating annually to ILF for the last few years, but there’s more I can do to support them and raise awareness. Writing this post is one of those ways.

It seems particularly relevant for me to do this this year, because the importance of supporting indigenous literacy, and, related to this, of spreading knowledge about indigenous languages was the impassioned parting message from Tara June Winch, Yvette Henry Holt and Jeanine Leane, at the Canberra Writers Festival Identity session.

Nha Nhunu Nhanjal? project

Book coverA few weeks ago, I received an email from the ILF reminding me about Indigenous Literacy Day and telling me about a book they are publishing, commemorating both this day and this year’s International Year of Indigenous Languages. The book is Nha Nhunu Nhanjal?, and is the product of a special project. It was “written and illustrated by Yolŋgu Matha-speaking students from Nhulunbuy Primary School on the Gove Peninsula in North East Arnhem Land and was launched at this year’s Garma Festival”. An English edition of the book, titled I Saw We Saw, will be launched at the Sydney Opera House today, Indigenous Literacy Day. Students from Nhulunbuy, 4,000 kilometers away, will be present to read and perform from the Yolŋgu Matha version.

In the email, ILF quoted well-known Australian author Richard Flanagan, an ILF Ambassador, speaking at the Garma Festival:

“Every language is a universe, and each universe allows us to understand what it is to be human in a different, larger and richer way. Like a basket woven out of many pieces of grass, many languages make our societies stronger and better.”

ILF says, reiterating Winch and co’s message, that

It is vital for young children to have access to books in their language. And seeing their way of life reflected in books their own children and community have created, ensures that cultural identity and connections to country remain strong.

We all know this don’t we? Many of us love reading about other cultures, but our first home, our starting point has to be, and for most of us naturally was, books about our own culture.

How can you support indigenous literacy and culture?

There are many things you can do, of course, depending on your skills, abilties, interests and wallets. Here are some ways:

  • donate to ILF (here)
  • buy a book (or two) from the National Library of Australia’s Bookshop, online or in store, today, between 9am and 5pm, as they all be donating 5% of all sales made to the  Indigenous Literacy Foundation. (Or from any other bookshop offering a similar donation to ILF today.)
  • buy the English version of the book, to keep, give away and/or donate to your local school.
  • hold your own fundraising activity, such as a Book Swap (doesn’t have to be today!)
  • advocate for ILF on social media, tagging @IndigenousLiteracyFoundation on Facebook and Instagram, and @IndigenousLF on Twitter

Let’s do what we can to help indigenous Australians’ literacy. And let’s also do what we can to increase non-indigenous Australians’ understanding of an ongoing 60,000+ years culture that no other country in the world is lucky to have. I mean, really, how fortunate we are.

26 thoughts on “Indigenous Literacy Day 2019

  1. The rich diversity of languages spoken by humans is a wonderful thing. I am not specifically familiar with the situation regarding Australian Indigenous languages, but I do know that many languages are “lost” every year. This seems like such an unfortunate loss.

  2. Hi Sue, I have just read The Yield by Tara Jane Winch. I loved how the novel incorporates a a dictionary of Wiradjuri words. Tomorrow night I am going to a MWF event, where Ali Cobby Eckermann will speak and her story will be just as interesting.

    • I’m so looking forward to reading this Meg. And, I’d love to hear Ali Cobby Eckermann. Where and what time? (We arrive in Melbourne tomorrow afternoon, but, really, unless it’s late, I’ll be tied up with family of course! And, if it’s late I expect to be ready for bed!)

  3. Hi Sue, it is 7.00 pm at Flemington Library. Enjoy your time with family. Ali Cobby Eckerman, might attend your Canberra Writers Festival next year!

  4. Just lately, I’ve noticed a small but significant gesture in one of the email library newsletters that I regularly receive, they start with a Boon Wurrung (Bunerong) greeting Womin Djeka. I’m a bit tempted to start using it as a greeting on my blog posts, but I think I’d better find out the protocol first…

  5. WG: Richard Flanagan – who claims Palawa ancestry! Perfect! But thanks for alerting me to this as Indigenous Literacy Day. I am actually just home from a morning session at the City of Lake Macquarie’s illuminated History week session at the Toronto Library – glorious views across parts of Lake Macquarie from one side of its main room – a session titled “Meet the Mob”. It was presented by Arts Curator Donna Biles-Fernando now tasked with co-ordinating and turning ABC Radio/Podcast interviews with 100 prominent (and not so prominent) Indigenous people) of the Hunter Region into a book of 80 of their stories – brief (100 words) intermediate (500 words) and longer versions (1,000~1500 words). The original interviews were made between 2015 and 2017 by Newcastle ABC Radio presenter Jill EMBERSON – and was not in anyway intended to stop at 100 – until Jill’s serious illness brought it to a halt. We listened to Donna tell us of the original project – in some cases involving non-horse-rider. Jill on horseback conducting one interview with Uncle Kevin TAGGART and Uncle Bill SMITH – another with Ray Kelly Snr (whom I recall seeing dance when he was a teenager and called Ray Kelly Jr) now in academia at UoNewcastle in his early 50s – speaking of his work involving the Wonnarua/Awabagal language – going back to the diaries and early dictionary work of the missionary Lancelot THRELKELD (b. 1788 in this region in the 1830s) in his translation of some of the Gospels. And lastly with Aunty Dorothy WOTHERSPOON – who was the first Indigenous female publican (in NSW/Australia?) – her husband earlier the first male Indigenous hotel licencee in Australia. They ran the “Catho” Pub (at Catherine Hill Bay) and Aunty Dorothy had some lovely stories of her early days and of when a young Mel Gibson and crew made a surfing movie: “Summer City” at Catherine Hill Bay – and every night hanging out at the Pub. She is still “Dottie” to Mel – Mel is still “Mel” to her. Snippets of only three of those 100 interview stories – available to listen to on ABC Radio podcasts: “Meet the Mob”. On Indigenous Literacy Day, 2019.

  6. Thanks Sue. I just bought 8 books by visiting that link…
    We are having a book swap here at my school this week too. I donated a bag of books but have yet been able to get down in the lunch break to donate. Will do though!

  7. I’ve supported the ILF for a number of years. I think it’s amazing organisation.
    Something you might be able to help me with as I’ve looked online and haven’t really found any comprehensive answer, but where did this acknowledgment of country come from ? I’ve only noticed it since my return. Is it a legal obligation? I have to admit some of the ones I’ve heard / read seem a bit tokenistic and / or naff.

    • No, it’s not a legal obligation though some organisations will expect their people to do it. It’s a growing courtesy, which is becoming an accepted protocol, to show we recognise indigenous rights. Indigenous people will often be asked to do a Welcome to Country at events, while non-indigenous people will do an Acknowledgement of Country, if that doesn’t happen. Some can be routine, but people are encouraged to make it more personal, which I tried to do for the one on my blog, without writing a long statement.

      • Thanks for explanation. Something about AoC doesn’t chime well with the cynical journalist in me, almost as if we stole your country but let us say a few words and we’re even… I don’t know. I think I need to hear what aboriginal people think of it… I need to do more research…I need to know the story behind it and how it originated.

        • I understand and what you are saying. It can certainly feel tokenistic, if not done with genuine respect. These are tricky times, but I don’t think these statements hurt if they help people remember the history of this country. As for what Indigenous Australians think, I suspect there’s no one answer. However, I have heard many indigenous people over recent years make these AoC statements when they are speaking/appearing in a country not their own, that is, they acknowledge the owners of the land they are visiting. In fact I believe it has origins in indigenous practice when they entered each other’s lands, but exactly how and when it started in our times I don’t know because it has gradually grown, mostly after I left the workplace.

  8. Hi Sue, update – the Ali Cobby Eckermann, MWF event at Flemington Library last night was wonderful. Ali spoke from the heart with honesty and proudness. It was like sitting around a camp fire listening to her stories, complemented by her reading some of her poetry. A very warm experience for all. Her home is the desert sitting around a camp fire with her people – Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha.

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