Image Description: Cover of Tara June Winch’s book, The Yield. The cover features many large birds flying in a triangle pattern behind the text of the title and author.
By Emma Lucas and Asha Couch
Growing up in the south-west of Australia, I encounter words and phrases of the Noongar language that have made their way into our common tongue. Like many others, I have taken this in stride and have not really considered the matter any further. It was not until attending this panel event, How It Feels To Be Free, that I’ve come to see the larger issue that lies within my ignorance.
Over the course of the hour, Bardi storyteller, Ron Bradfield, facilitated a thought-provoking and, at times, contentious discussion between Whadjuk Noongar elder, Professor Len Collard, and Wiradjuri author, Tara June Winch. To open the conversation, Professor Collard drew light to the fact that whilst First Nations Australians are often regarded in the public eye as “yesterday’s people”, this is very much not the case, and to perpetuate this perspective is damaging for the very present population of Indigenous Australians that make up a large number of our society.
Tara June Winch’s latest release, The Yield, explores the link between language and connection to country. Winch’s manner of speaking is deliberate and articulate; she is extraordinarily powerful with her words. She shared with us the ongoing trauma her family experienced at the hands of the Stolen Generation, as her father was taken as a child. She described the impact of her father’s separation from Wiradjuri culture, especially language, as trauma of the tongue or mouth, which is intergenerational. Ngarran is the word she used to describe the ache for the missing connection, a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘weak, hungry, depressed’. Through her writing, it is her goal to reignite the flow of language in her family.
The experience of Winch and her family is a clear testimony to the influence Australia’s past still has on Indigenous Australians today. When Winch asked Collard for his thoughts on her points on trauma of the mouth, he considered how this related to his own lived experience, and went on to explain his belief that the past somewhat entraps Australia and that we must move forward.
Growing up in the south-west himself, Collard spoke of how the Noongar language was the familial tongue used at home, and it wasn’t until a little later that English became a prominent second language in his everyday life. Being brought up in this way, the use of Noongar language was integral to his sense of belonging within his community. Carried within those words was the weight of his ancestral history; generations upon generations’ worth of stories, traditions, and teachings. Collard then went on to explain how information is encoded within Noongar words and place names, using the example of the traditional name for where UWA is situated; Koortandalup. He broke down the separate elements within the name and explained to us how this word is, in fact, not just one word but instead a descriptive phrase, roughly translated to “meeting place of lovers”.
After elaborating on the use of other Noongar words within our local vernacular, Collard, Bradfield and Winch spoke about the necessity and importance of education on the Noongar language, not just in schools but within the larger community and within the practice of our everyday lives. To understand the language of the land (boodja) on which you live and depend on is to belong, and how ridiculous it is that so many of us (myself included) have gone the duration of our lives without thinking to further investigate the meanings of these places that we call home.
As was said in the discussion, “Language is the thread that can stitch the land together”, and in making an active effort to bring traditional language into our daily lives, we are not only showing respect to the Indigenous communities, but also taking steps towards decolonisation.
Asha is a hoarder Gemini who needs to get off Facebook marketplace.
Emma thinks peanut butter and environmental sustainability are totally tubular, dude