Chapter 7 Preserving languages for future generations
Throughout the inquiry the Committee heard evidence about how critical
the recording, storage and access of language materials was to both the
maintenance and revival of Indigenous languages. These language materials
comprise a range of different formats, including audio and video recordings,
word lists, grammars, dictionaries and historical documents.
Language materials can be used to develop resources to ensure the
transmission of languages and cultural knowledge from one generation to the
next (for example, in children’s books), or to recover lost or ‘sleeping’
languages. Therefore, good record keeping is integral for preserving languages
for future generations.
The Committee heard evidence that the digitisation of language materials
is vital both to preserving languages in the long term, and to ensuring that
resources are accessible for people wishing to maintain or revive their
This chapter places an emphasis on enhancing networks as a practical
method to ensure that Indigenous languages are preserved for the future, and
examines best practice examples of good record keeping, including the sharing
of new technologies to document languages and training. The chapter examines
the range of evidence the Committee received in relation to the preservation of
Indigenous languages, including the important role of the Australian Institute
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) as the largest
repository for Indigenous languages material in Australia.
Enhancing existing networks
Currently the Indigenous Languages Support (ILS) program is the main
source of funding for Indigenous languages maintenance and revival, and
therefore forms a vital hub in the network of organisations and individuals who
are engaged in language work.
The Office for the Arts has a network of Project Officers, which
consists of staff based in Canberra and National Network offices located around
the country. The role of network staff is:
to act as the first point of contact for stakeholders within
the regions, conduct detailed assessment of funding applications against the
current guidelines, undertake risk assessments, manage funding agreements with
organisations (including the monitoring and progression of activities) and to
assist organisations, if needed, to meet reporting requirements. 
As ILS is one of a number of Indigenous programs run through the Office
for the Arts, most staff have multiple responsibilities and do not work solely
on administering ILS.
The Committee received evidence about the importance of regional
language centres and other organisations that support the language maintenance
and revival work of a number of communities, and who work to enhance a growing
For example, the Many Rivers Aboriginal Language Centre (MRALC) in NSW
offer support for Aboriginal communities who want to revitalise their
languages. MRALC currently supports seven languages along the NSW north coast.
MRALC commented that they:
work closely with Elders, and local language, culture and
educational organisations to conduct research, publish accessible
grammars–dictionaries and develop engaging educational courses and resources.
The Mobile Language Team from the University of Adelaide provides
similar support to Aboriginal communities in South Australia, particularly for
language programs in Wirangu (in Ceduna) and Ngarrindjeri (in the Coorong
region). According to the Mobile Language Team:
These programs are strongly driven by community, and are seen
as key initiatives that contribute to a strong, distinctive and cohesive
cultural identity, and that have resulted in a set of teaching materials that
will form the basis for cultural education activities for generations to come.
Another excellent example of an organisation working within a region to
support a range of communities to preserve their languages was the Papulu
Apparr-Kari Aboriginal Corporation based in Tenant Creek. The centre supports
the 16 language groups of the Barkly region of the Northern Territory.
In the linguistically diverse Kimberley region of Western Australia, the
Kimberley Language Resource Centre (KLRC) supports communities to provide
assistance with language continuation for around 30 languages that are still
spoken. Similarly, the Wangka
Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre supports the 31 languages of the
Pilbara area of Western Australia.
The Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) is the peak
body for Aboriginal languages in Victoria and ‘supports the operation of five Community
Language Programs who work locally to research and develop language resources for
The Committee heard evidence from groups that were formed to help
facilitate the networking of Aboriginal language centres and projects, provide
training and to provide an advocacy role. For example, the Eastern States
Aboriginal Languages Group (ESALG) ‘was established in 2008 to identify and
address issues which are common to Eastern Australian Aboriginal Language
communities’. The ESALG is:
looking at ways to support community language programs, and
to set priorities for the effective use of the resources available and the
engagement of a wide range of organisations to support the shared goals. 
Another key organisation is the Resource Network for Linguistic
Diversity (RNLD); a not for profit organisation with over 650 members who ‘are
working at all levels nationally and internationally to support and sustain
Indigenous languages through diverse documentation and revitalisation
RNLD supports language activities through /the provision of training, resource-sharing,
networking, and advocacy. 
A key role these types of organisations play is facilitating the
networking of people working with Indigenous languages to share ideas,
experiences and skills. The ILS program funds the biennial National Pulima
Indigenous Language and Technology Conference, which has been organised by the
Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre. In describing the importance
of the conference, Faith Baisden from the ESALG said that ‘apart from all of
the information that people get to share, it is picking each other's brains and
getting moral support to go back out to your little centre and do what you do’.
The Federation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages and
The Federation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages and
Culture (FATSILC) was established in 1991 as the peak body for community based
Indigenous language programs in Australia.
FATSILC’s objectives include:
n Ensure that
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are considered as core issue in
the development of all policy and legislation relation to Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people in Australia
n Support and the
maintenance of cultural practices and traditions so that they will survive for
n Proved information
and advice to government, non-government agencies and the general community
relation to language issues
n Contribute to the
development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language policies and
n Provide consultative
support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language management
committees, language centres, community groups including individuals, families
n Promote the
recognition and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language
skills, experience and knowledge in languages, culture, arts and heritage
through educational and employment programs, and
n Encourage the
training and development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language
workers and specialist language speakers.
In previous years, FATSILC was funded to publish the Voice of the
Land magazine, which provided a forum for people working with Indigenous
languages to share ‘program news, publications and language research,
initiatives and conferences, cultural events and displays and any actions on
policy matters and items of general interest to all.’ 
Previously, FATSILC received funding through the ILS program but that
funding ceased. As a consequence, the organisation has recently undergone a
significant restructure and has reduced the number of elected board members
from 17 to nine.
The Chair of FATSILC, Mrs Barbara McGillivray, acknowledged that the
formation and operation of FATSILC had been a difficult process and pointed to
governance issues as being a major hurdle for the organisation:
FATSILC I suppose has had its ups and downs, if I can say
that. It has never been successful in the sense of having a national manager.
It just did not work for some reason, and it has taken us quite a while to get
to the stage where we were at last year, prior to 18 June, to push towards
trying to get a restructure, because we knew that our board was too big. We had
a board of 17 directors and 17 shadow directors, and it was just too hard for
us to achieve good outcomes. It has been really hard trying to build our
organisation up. 
Mrs McGillivray said that the restructure of FATSILC has resulted in a
shift in focus for the organisation, towards advocating for communities who are
working to preserve or revitalise their languages. 
National Indigenous Languages Centre
The National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS) report recommended a
feasibility study to be undertaken into the establishment of a national
Indigenous languages centre. According to the NILS report:
The functions of a National Indigenous Languages Centre would
include high-level documentation of the languages and their situation, policy
development and advice, a forum for Indigenous views, and either training of
language workers or close liaison with a body or bodies carrying out this
The 2005 NILS report stated that the feasibility study would need to
work with key stakeholders, including:
n Relevant government
departments led by the Language and Culture Branch (now located in the Office
for the Arts).
n AIATSIS, and
n Representatives of
regional language centres and people working with Indigenous languages.
The NILS report 2005 asserted that:
Discussions on the establishment of a National Indigenous
Languages Centre should consider the option of stronger formal links between these
existing agencies as a key first stage in the development of the proposed
Part of the Commonwealth Government’s National Indigenous Languages
policy is to conduct a feasibility
study of a national Indigenous languages centre, although no action is being
undertaken presently to initiate this study. Furthermore, it is difficult to
determine what the feasibility study would comprise.
The Committee heard that both British Columbia (Canada) and New Zealand
have centralised bodies dealing with Indigenous language maintenance and
The Committee received evidence that the provincial government of
British Columbia was supporting Indigenous languages maintenance and revitalisation
through the development of a centralised government agency. Professor Lorna
Williams told the Committee that, in British Columbia:
The First Peoples Heritage, Language and Culture Council is a
provincial Crown agency and so it is an agency of the Crown. But all of the
council members and the directors and all of the advisory are first nations or
It is financial resources, but also the fact that it is one
of the Crown agencies of the province, so there is reporting to parliament and
it is supported by legislation. That it is part of the government is what also
makes the difference.
The Australian Human Rights Commission referred to positive changes in
language use in New Zealand following the establishment of the Maori Language Commission,
which is ‘an example of the successes which can be achieved by providing a
framework for a coordinated response to Indigenous language policy and
promotion’. While acknowledging the
significant differences in the Indigenous language situations between New
Zealand and Australia, the Commission recommended that:
in consultation with the National Congress of Australia's
First People, a national Indigenous languages commission be established to
monitor and regulate the maintenance and revitalisation of Australian
Indigenous languages. 
Several organisations supported the development and funding of a
national agency or body in Australia. For example, Australians for Native Title
and Reconciliation (ANTaR) said that ‘the establishment of such a body is an essential
step that goes hand-in-hand with the creation of an effective national policy framework’.
ANTaR proposed that the establishment of a national centre could enable:
n the development of a
consistent policy framework
n more effective use of
the considerable expertise in Indigenous languages across Australia
n greater consistency in
the administration of funding, and
n improved quality
control in the delivery of programs, and more effective, transparent monitoring
of their effectiveness.
According to the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social
Justice Commissioner, Mr Tom Calma, such an organisation would have ‘its eye on
the big picture and can apply expertise to a complex language environment’.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (the Congress) expressed
its ‘disappointment that the commitment to progress a National Indigenous
Languages Centre has not been acted upon by the Australian Government’.
The Congress urged the Committee to consider recommending the development of a
Conversely, Ms Sally Basser from the Office for the Arts did not see a
need for a new national centre, and said that:
our view would be that there is an existing body called
AIATSIS which we fund to do a lot of language work. If one wanted to deem
something or create something as a national language centre or service, one
would build on what is already there with AIATSIS. There is a wealth of
research and content in that organisation. It could perform that role in the
future. There is an organisation that we have. We do not need a new one.
In response, the Congress urged caution on the potential expansion of
the role of AIATSIS:
Congress notes that AIATSIS is a Commonwealth statutory
authority within the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and
Tertiary Education, therefore our concerns about independence from Government,
and emphasis on community control, apply equally here. Any proposal to expand AIATSIS
(or indeed another existing organisation) would need to be carefully considered
after consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language experts
and communities and would also require the allocation of substantial additional
funding to ensure that the organisation can appropriately manage an expanded
Mr John Hobson was supportive of the idea of a national centre but urged
caution because he thought ‘it could be dangerous if it was poorly implemented
or if it was set up in such a way that it was a controlling entity rather than
a facilitating entity’.
Mr Hobson commended the work of regional language centres, but said that
‘there is a great need for national leadership in the field’ and that ‘often
there is a gulf of information about what works and what does not work’.
Mr Daryn McKenny’s idea for a national centre placed an emphasis on
empowering Indigenous people and equipping them with skills to maintain or
revive their languages. Mr McKenny said that Aboriginal and Torres Strait
need to join together. We do need to support each other. We
need to be in a position to be able to recognise the diversity which does
exist. This type of vision which I see for how we are evolving cannot all take
place at government or institute level as such.
The ESALG supported the development of state based language centres in
providing specialist support for local language activities, and said that:
the funding and resourcing of state based language centres
has been considered by some to be an effective method of utilising high cost services
and skills, for use on a needs basis by regional programs. These services could
include linguist skills, administrative support, publication and resource preparation,
mobile language teams, recording, negotiation with Government agencies,
training and skills development.
As Chapter 3 mentioned, the NSW Government has established the Centre
for Aboriginal Languages Coordination and Development (CALCD). Mr James
Christian from Aboriginal Affairs NSW said that the Indigenous community
representatives that comprise the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group will
‘direct language work priorities for the centre. The centre will provide
informed advice to the NSW government on the development of a revised Aboriginal
languages policy and strategic plan’.
Aboriginal Affairs NSW supported the development and funding of state
based language centres. It urged the Committee to consider the Commonwealth
Government working through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to
State Aboriginal Language Centres to coordinate language work
and priorities across the State, and to identify and support regions and
communities not supported by a Regional Language Centre.
In addition, Aboriginal Affairs NSW, proposed that the Commonwealth
Government develop support through COAG for:
the establishment of targeted regional language centres to
coordinate and provide on the ground and hands on support to Aboriginal
communities working to revive or maintain their languages. Aboriginal
communities require sustained assistance to identify language recordings and
primary resources, develop language learning materials and implement language
learning strategies. 
The Committee praises the work of all organisations, communities and
individuals who are striving, often with very limited resources, to preserve
Indigenous languages for future generations.
The Committee understands that FATSILC has had a difficult time in
providing a national advocacy role for communities working with their
languages, and acknowledges the pragmatic decision of FATSILC to restructure
The Committee is not convinced that the creation of a national centre
would work to better support the maintenance and revival of Indigenous
languages. The Committee has reservations about adding another layer of
bureaucracy to a network of organisations and people who are working to
preserve their languages from the ground up. The Committee views a ‘top down’
hierarchical arrangement between a new national centre and the pre-existing,
grass-roots network as inherently complicated, potentially wasteful in terms of
the limited resources dedicated to Indigenous languages, and potentially
damaging for programs that currently are working well.
The Committee believes that effort should be focussed on enhancing
existing networks and organisations to improve their capacity to conduct
language preservation and revitalisation work. As recommended later in this chapter,
the Committee sees benefit in funding AIATSIS to play an enhanced role in
archiving, research and support for Indigenous languages.
The Committee notes that the ILS program is a key element in the network
of organisations working with Indigenous languages in Australia. The Committee
encourages closer links between ILS, its network, and AIATSIS. The Committee
also encourages the sharing of and access to language materials developed with
the support of ILS program funding.
In reviewing the evidence on the work that is presently being undertaken
to preserve Indigenous languages, the Committee concludes that successful
Indigenous language maintenance and revival activities share a number of
important characteristics. They:
n can access
n are community driven
by people that are passionate about working together to preserve their
n are integrated into a
range of other cultural activities that emphasise the importance of the
transmission of cultural knowledge
n can draw upon
language materials and a solid knowledge base (including having access to
n have access to
appropriate technology, and training in its use
n are integrated into a
network of support, and
n can draw upon
existing resources and apply them to a local context.
The Committee sees great merit in continued support for regional
language centres as a way to provide practical and specialist support for
people wanting to maintain or revive their Indigenous languages.
The Committee strongly encourages states and territories to take a
regional responsibility for funding local language centres based on the
principles outlined above. The Committee is encouraged by the efforts of the NSW
Government in this regard, and believes that there is substantial scope and
opportunity for other jurisdictions to play a similar role in providing
community support for Indigenous languages.
The Committee has recommended an increase in funding of the ILS program
to continue to support language projects across Australia. However, the
Committee firmly believes it is not governments’ responsibility wholly to fund
language centres or language projects.
Solid foundations in both Indigenous languages and English must be built
through partnerships between governments and communities.
The Committee considers that recommendations in this report work towards
opening up market opportunities for language centres through increasing the use
of interpreting services, opening opportunities for philanthropic and private
sector contributions, creating demand for the production of resources and
collaboration with schools.
The Committee’s long term vision is for community owned and operated language
centres, which respond to the increased demand for Indigenous languages
services and for these services to be valued nationwide.
Access to resources
As outlined in Chapter 2, of the 250 Australian Indigenous languages
used at colonisation, it is estimated only about 18 remain spoken by significant
populations. Some languages are spoken by only a few people and have been
revitalised to be taught and spoken once more. Other languages have an active
speaking population but not necessarily a documented record of the language.
The Committee received evidence of the need for better knowledge and
skill sharing within the network of people working to preserve their Indigenous
languages. Mr Hobson said that ‘to some extent one can feel like there are a
lot of people rushing around with fire extinguishers, because it is an
emergency and people are doing whatever they think or hope might work’.
Preserving languages through technology and training
The Committee heard that two of the important ways that the government can
enhance existing networks are through the development and sharing of new
technologies to preserve languages, and the training of communities to use
those technologies and other best practices in their language work.
For example, Mr McKenny, the General Manager of the Miromaa Aboriginal
Language and Technology Centre, said that:
Aboriginal people today have struggled in finding the tools
and the training to be able to assist them, to empower them to do language
conservation themselves. We have had that struggle. We have had that problem
ourselves. It has been through our learning, our experiences and our mistakes
that we have set about creating those tools, using technology to assist us. 
In terms of new technologies, the Committee was impressed by the quality
and usefulness of the Miromaa computer program and the training and support
that was provided by the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre.
The Committee heard evidence that the Miromaa program is an easy to use
database that helps people working with languages gather, organise, analyse and
produce material to aid in language work.
Mr McKenny, said that:
Our work in language conservation, documentation and training
is not only recognised nationally but internationally, as not just necessary
but inspirational, empowering and crucial in equipping Aboriginal people with
the skills needed to rightfully manage the many aspects of caring for our
Mr McKenny said that the Centre is supporting over 100 language based
activities nationally and is providing training in locations throughout
Australia. The Miromaa software is available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people to use for free. Mr McKenny commented that:
the six dialects of the Torres Strait Islands are being
digitised for the first time by the people up at Thursday Island at Tagai State
College. We sent a team of our staff up there. They sat with the people in the
Torres Strait Islands to give them training. They are now digitising it. We are
working closely with the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages based
in Melbourne. The 38 languages of Victoria are now being digitised, captured,
for the first time through the aid of what we have developed. 
As previously mentioned, the Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology
Centre organises and hosts the biennial National Pulima Indigenous Language and
Technology Conference, and has developed the ‘Our Languages’ website.
Mr McKenny described the website as a way to increase public awareness of the
importance of language activities by ‘showcasing or giving all language
activities around Australia an opportunity to have a presence, to tell their
story and to share their experiences’. 
Dr. William Fogarty and Dr. Inge Kral said that technologies are driving
language use in Indigenous communities more broadly. They provided the
Committee with evidence that these activities were being driven by Indigenous
Indigenous youth in remote communities are engaging with new
digital technologies at a rapid rate. They are demonstrating their competence
in this domain, particularly by engaging in creative cultural theatre,
festival, multimedia and music production or digital cultural heritage projects.
Such activities commonly incorporate Indigenous languages (e.g. recording songs
in language on GarageBand or ProTools computer software, or translating and
transcribing language subtitles in film or other audiovisual recordings). Youth
with computer and media skills are also taking on roles archiving and
documenting local community knowledge in databases of heritage materials where
repatriated items are enriched with annotations often in Indigenous language.
Ray Kelly Jnr. conveyed similar sentiments in Newcastle, saying that:
... access to technology I believe is going to be a big thing
for our languages. It is a hassle to get any young people these days off
computers, off Facebook, off any type of technology. I feel that if we can
incorporate our language into those types of mediums we will be fine.
The roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) was greeted with
optimism by Dr Nick Thieberger, who said that:
with the rollout of the NBN I think we have to see that there
is going to be a lot more access in remote communities to repositories of
information and we have to make sure that those repositories have good,
digitised information and that it is locatable so that people can locate
records of their languages.
The Indigenous Remote Communication Association (IRCA) were cautious
about the benefits of the NBN to remote communities. They said that:
For remote Indigenous people, the best communications
technologies enable audio-visual (face-to-face) communications where verbal
language, sign and body language can all be conveyed. Text-based communications
(email, letters, websites etc) is not appropriate for many remote Indigenous
people. The NBN model of satellite-delivered broadband (asymmetrical, high
latency, shared contention) to remote Australia is likely to limit the types of
broadband applications such as videoconferencing, tele-health & interactive
teaching applications and ICTV. Further, it will not support the expansion of
mobile coverage to remote Indigenous communities. 
IRCA gave evidence that improved access to technology more broadly in
Indigenous communities was needed. They said that:
Beyond the rollout of broadband infrastructure, there is a
need for improved IT access facilities, post-school training, and development
of appropriate internet services and relevant content.
In terms of training, the Committee was particularly impressed by the
work of Mr McKenny and RNLD. RNLD has developed the Documenting and
Revitalising Indigenous Languages program (DRIL). The DRIL program aims to:
increase the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people in sustainable language work, and strengthen the ability of individuals,
family groups, community groups, and Indigenous organisations to develop, run and
manage their own language projects independently.
While DRIL is ‘designed to complement the existing Indigenous languages
programs provided in educational institutions’, according to RNLD the program
facilitates the stronger use of facilities such as AIATSIS
and the National Library through training community members in the use of
searchable archives, the rights to materials and the methods to access them.
DRIL bridges between community language workers and linguists who aspire to
offer more practical assistance to projects. Such partnerships are critical to
the sustainability of language projects. 
The Committee commends those people and organisations that are drawing
on new technologies and developing training techniques to empower communities
to preserve their languages. The Committee sees this as a vital element in
improving the capacity of the existing network to carry out the important work
they are undertaking, and to enhance those skills in the future.
The Committee considers new technologies are the way forward for
enabling people, particularly young people, to gain skills and knowledge in
Indigenous language maintenance and revival.
The Committee notes that National Indigenous Television (NITV) is now
part of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) family of digital, free-to-air
channels. NITV is launching a new dedicated Indigenous television channel that
every Australian household will be able to watch.
The Committee commends this move and the positive flow on effects this
will have for a wider recognition of the value of Indigenous languages in
Australia. The Committee is of the view that improving the exposure of the
Australian public to Indigenous languages and culture will have significant
positive effects for reconciliation and community wellbeing.
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
AIATSIS is Australia’s leading research, collecting and publishing
institution in the field of Australian Indigenous studies. AIATSIS is a
statutory authority that operates under the AIATSIS Act 1989.
AIATSIS’s Library and Audiovisual Archive (AVA) are responsible for managing
Australia’s most extensive collections of printed, audio and visual materials
on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, history and societies. To
date, AIATSIS has been acting as a ‘de facto national archive for language
In 2009, the Library’s ‘Australian Indigenous Languages Collection’ was
placed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
(UNESCO) Memory of the World register to recognise its extensive and unique
However, AIATSIS is neither required under its legislated function to
carry out the comprehensive collection and storage of Indigenous language
material, nor is it currently funded to do so. According to AIATSIS:
The fact that the current language collection functions as a
national archive is largely due to the foresight of several generations of the
collections staff, and also due to the research conducted on Indigenous
languages by AIATSIS researchers and researchers funded by the AIATSIS Research
Grants Program (which was suspended for the 2012-2013 financial year due to the
lack of resources).
Under a three year funding agreement through the Indigenous Languages
Support (ILS) program in 2010-11, AIATSIS has established an Indigenous
Languages Unit. Under the agreement, the unit will:
be the national coordinator linking Indigenous language
organisations, educational and research institutions and government agencies. Its
new staff will also run the second National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS2)
and community language workshops, and will work to improve communications and dissemination
of information about Indigenous languages.
Of concern to John Hobson from the Koori Centre was the decision by
AIATSIS to discontinue its research grants scheme, which has been funding ‘high
quality linguistic, anthropological and archaeological research nationally for the
last two decades’. According to AIATSIS,
the difficult decision was made because:
AIATSIS funding from Government has fallen steadily over the
past decade, in inflation-adjusted terms. Well argued submissions to Government
over a number of past budgetary cycles seeking increased base funding, and/or
exemption from the efficiency dividend, have been unsuccessful. We have now
passed the point where all legislated functions, which relate to both our
research and our related archival collection responsibilities, can be
delivered, and in this context Council took the view that decisive action was
Whilst Council noted, and appreciates, the Government’s
decision to exempt AIATSIS from the additional 2.5% efficiency dividend in
2012-13, this will have no positive impact on ongoing funding.
John Hobson thought that this:
dramatically evidences the tenuous state of funding available
to Australian language conservation and revitalisation and suggests an urgent need
for the establishment of a substantial and ongoing funding base to support research
into Indigenous languages and cultures into the future, as well as a significant
boost in the funding levels for AIATSIS itself. 
The Committee heard concerns that the centralisation of language
materials at AIATSIS made it difficult for people in communities to access that
material. The Centre for Indigenous Technology Information and Engineering
Solutions (CITIES) said that AIATSIS’ rigorous protocols on accessing its
resources were onerous for many people and communities. CITIES said that the
process of getting appropriate permissions to use resources can ‘drag on too
long and the community loses faith that they will be able to access their
resources’. CITIES said that:
The protocols around knowledge sharing hinder the process of
returning these to the communities who are related to the speakers through
language or kinship. While available in the AIATSIS audiovisual library, Indigenous
people are denied access by distance and the lack of information about what is there. 
Similarly the Eastern States Aboriginal Languages Group (ESALG)
commented that ‘community members feel a sense of disconnection from the
collecting institutions in which much of their historical language information
is held’, and that there was a ‘lack of staff within these institutions to
support community in research ventures’.
In response, AIATSIS detailed its protocols to accessing material:
The AIATSIS Library and the Audiovisual Archive (AVA) provide
access to materials in its collection in accordance with:
n The Copyright Act
1968 (mainly S48-S53);
n The AIATSIS Act 1989
(section 41(1) which requires individual
access and use agreements with
owners or their delegates as specified in deposit agreements and section 41 (2)
which recognises the possible existence of sensitive material in the collection
other than that covered by section 41(1);
n The Privacy Act 1988;
n The AIATSIS
Audiovisual Archive Code of Ethics.
AlATSIS does not own most of the unpublished material in its
collections. In many cases individual manuscript or audiovisual collections
will have their own deposit agreements which are a form of legal contract where
the Institute is the custodian of the material and where ownership is retained
by the depositor.
The Library and AVA follow access protocols that are defined
by the above legislation and long-standing AlATSIS practice. The protocols try
to ensure that the intent of the legislation is observed and the interests of
the creators/owners (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) of the material are acknowledged
in the provision of access to their material. The protocols were also designed
to protect personal or sensitive cultural information.
The following factors contribute to the time it takes to
process a request for material held in the AlATSIS collection:
n Some agreements are
quite restrictive whereby permission must be requested each time the item is
n Owners may be
difficult to locate or slow to respond, and very occasionally may deny access.
n Some materials are
not in a useable format, such as reels and cassettes. They need to be digitised
before copies can be distributed. Digitising to archival standards is a slow,
labour-intensive and expensive process.
n Some materials are
not adequately documented, for example, photographic collections may be
deposited without captions and many audio collections arrive without
documentation. This can make material relevant to a client's request hard to
n The limited funding
has compelled AlATSIS' digitisation program to target the most 'at risk'
collections in its race against time to preserve holdings, as older formats
deteriorate or playback equipment becomes obsolete or difficult to maintain.
The unfortunate outcome of this is limited servicing of requests from community
and researchers. That is, the AVA currently only accepts requests for digitised
n Limited staffing has
caused the Library to implement a target of a 25 working day response time for
On the other hand, the number of requests for materials held
in the AVA increased by 46% between 2008-2009 (431 requests) and 2010-2011 (631
requests) while the number of the staff remained the same.
Dr Kazuko Obato from AIATSIS stressed that digitisation of the AVA was
critical for ensuring that language materials were appropriately preserved, and
for making them accessible. Dr Obato said that:
the process is very slow for us to actually create the
conditions to access the material and also to digitise the material. Something
we are looking at is how we could improve these kinds of obstacles. One problem
is the lack of funding.
Dr Doug Marmion from AIATSIS agreed. Referring to the range of formats
of materials held in the AVA, he said that it ‘is a major project to digitise
all of these into standard formats which will ensure their long-term
preservation and usefulness’.
The Committee is aware there are community concerns about access to
Indigenous languages material at the AIATSIS archive.
The Committee believes that community access to such materials is
critical for the preservation and revitalisation of Indigenous languages.
The Committee is of the view that the best method of preserving
Indigenous languages for the future is through good record keeping, which
involves the deposition of language materials in a central archive with proven
good archiving and cataloguing practices, and the timely digitisation of
The Committee believes a central archive of Indigenous languages
materials has the benefit of ensuring that communities have access to languages
materials when those materials are appropriately stored, catalogued and in a
The Committee has reviewed AIATSIS’ protocols on accessing its archives
and concludes that those protocols are consistent with the relevant Acts and
represent robust and appropriate practice. The protocols adequately consider
the complex issues around ownership and the cultural sensitivities and
financial aspects that may ensue.
The Committee commends AIATSIS for carrying out the role of a de facto
national Indigenous languages archive when it has not been specifically funded
to do so, commends the staff who have managed the collection over several
decades, and the researchers who have been responsible for generating much of
the material held in the AVA.
The Committee is of the view that AIATSIS is capable of carrying out comprehensive
collection, storage and digitisation of Indigenous language material if it is
appropriately resourced to do so.
The Committee urges the Commonwealth Government to support AIATSIS as
the central repository responsible for preserving Australia’s Indigenous
languages. This support needs to be directed specifically towards promoting the
timely digitisation of the archive’s world-leading collection, and equitable
access for people wishing to use the collection.
Recommendation 28 – Dedicated Indigenous language archive
||The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government
include in the 2013-14 Budget increased resources for the Australian
Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to carry out the
storage and digitisation of Indigenous language materials.
The Committee is concerned that budgetary constraints have forced
AIATSIS to discontinue its research grants program, which has been one of few
avenues for Indigenous people and other researchers to fund research into
Indigenous languages for the past two decades. The Committee urges the
Commonwealth Government to consult with AIATSIS to determine an appropriate and
sustainable funding model in order for it to recommence its research grants
Recommendation 29 – AIATSIS research funding
||The Committee recommends the Commonwealth Government consult
with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Studies to determine an appropriate and sustainable funding model in order
for it to recommence its research grants program in the 2013-14 Budget.
The Committee reiterates its view that good record keeping is critical
to the preservation of Indigenous languages. The Committee is aware that ILS
funding recipients generate a wealth of Indigenous language material, some of
which is deposited in the AIATSIS archive. The Committee considers it essential
that a copy of language material and resources assembled through funding
granted under the ILS program should be deposited with AIATSIS.
Recommendation 30 – Archiving of ILS language material
||The Committee recommends that the Indigenous Languages
Support (ILS) program funding guidelines be amended to include a stipulation
that a copy of any language materials developed by ILS funding recipients
must be deposited with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Studies’ Library or Audio-Visual Archive.
The Committee has presented a set of recommendations that chart a future
for Indigenous languages and assist our Indigenous youth to grow strong in
culture and in heritage and with the skills and opportunities to participate fully
in the Australian society and economy.
Incorporating an acknowledgment of the place and importance of
Indigenous languages in Closing the Gap will ensure that languages become part
of the delivery and the outcomes of the many programs delivered under this
framework by Commonwealth, state and territory governments.
Expanding the ILS program, and prioritising the development of language
nests, will enhance the opportunities for communities to develop language
resources and take up the role of teaching their children. The use of bilingual
education in areas where the Indigenous first language is dominant must be
considered. The overwhelming evidence was that children learning in a bilingual
environment can grow and prosper in a bilingual or multilingual way and have
improved Standard Australian English outcomes.
NAPLAN tests may contribute to the disengagement of non English speaking
students at a young age. NAPLAN seeks to measure knowledge and skills across a
range of competencies and language should not be a barrier to these assessments
and the Committee has recommended an alternative assessment tool for all
students learning English as an Additional Language/Dialect.
Establishing a national Indigenous interpreting service will enhance
communications with Indigenous people around critical services, and also
provide opportunities for language centres to train and employ language
Flexible and accessible career and accreditation pathways for Indigenous
teachers have been a large focus. Strategies must be developed for training
Indigenous language teachers and to provide school support and mentorship.
High numbers of Indigenous students with a first language or dialect
other than Standard Australian English are attending schools in urban, regional
and remote areas. Compulsory training in English as an Additional Language or
Dialect (EAL/D) for all teachers would aid teachers to provide a productive
learning environment rather than a confusing one.
These are critical recommendations and the Committee urges the
Commonwealth Government to act quickly to announce their implementation.
This report builds on the Mabo decision of the High Court of Australia
in 1992 which recognised the occupancy of the Indigenous peoples and their
ongoing connection to the land. That decision was a vital step in redressing
past wrongs and it acknowledged the richness of Indigenous heritage and its
place as a living culture.
However, twenty years on from that decision and we have failed to close
the gap on Indigenous disadvantage. Over these two decades billions have been
spent providing various services, assistance and programs to improve outcomes
for Indigenous peoples. We are making progress, but progress is slow. And over
these two decades we have seen the decline of many Indigenous languages just as
we have seen the rise of Indigenous youth disconnected from their culture,
failing at schooling, lacking a sense of identity or future, and ending up in
the criminal justice system as the Committee reported in the 2011 report Doing
Time – Time for Doing.
Sadly, it is these tragic outcomes that dominate many media stories.
However there are positive stories that are not being heard – and many of these
stories are about language and about communities working together to preserve,
revitalise and sustain their Indigenous languages. These communities are
raising their children strong in first language and able to speak SAE and make
choices for their future.
It is the desire of this Committee that in 2012, twenty years since the
Mabo land decision, the next vital decision is made by governments and by all
Australians to recognise and value Indigenous languages. Through land and
language we can close the gap.
The Committee believes all Australians should have pride in the
Indigenous languages of our country. Indigenous languages bring with them rich
cultural heritage, knowledge and a spiritual connection to the land.
Yurranydjil Dhurrkay from Galiwin’ku in North East Arnhem Land stated:
Our language is like a pearl inside a shell. The shell is
like the people that carry the language. If our language is taken away, then
that would be like a pearl that is gone. We would be like an empty oyster
Language is inseparable from culture, kinship, land and family and is
the foundation upon which the capacity to learn, interact and to shape identity
is built. Under the Closing the Gap framework, valuing Indigenous languages can
make a substantial impact in areas of education, employment, health, justice
Indigenous languages will hold different meanings to different
Australians. For some it is their first language, and the language of their
country. For others it is the language of the area and place in which they
reside. For all Australians, Indigenous languages are about who we are as a
nation, about the place we call home, the country we live in, and the land we