Young High helps reclaim Wiradjuri

Harry Lambshead and Letetia Harris teaching a year seven class Wiradjuri.
Harry Lambshead and Letetia Harris teaching a year seven class Wiradjuri.

Learning another language is a standard part of most high school curriculums.

But few students could lay claim to learning the local indigenous language through an ongoing program.

That’s exactly what the  Year 7 cohort at Young High School will be doing, learning Wiradjuri once a week for the rest of the year.

Wiradjuri was on the brink of extinction in the late '90s, before a project was undertaken to reclaim the language.

Anthropologist Dr John Rudder and Uncle Stan Grant came together to rebuild the spoken and sung language, creating a spelling system and collating resources. 

Harry Lambshead and Letetia Harris, both of Cowra, are teaching the classes at Young High.

They have been teaching the language for a decade, and are working towards their Masters in the language.

“The language was just sleeping, we’re bringing back the fluency,” Harry said.

“It empowers young aboriginal kids and the broader community to understand our history instead of just making it just a black history.”

He said similar programs in Parkes had a profound impact on the whole community.

“It practically stamped out racism in the town among the kids,” he said. 

Letetia said she was passionate about the reclamation of the language.

“It empowers the wider community to understand aboriginal people but it really promotes pride in aboriginal students and wider community,” she said.

“For our language, it’s all about connecting to the country and land.” 

Ultimately, Letetia hopes that one day indigenous languages will be offered as a HSC subject. 

Head teacher (administration) and Aboriginal Education Co-ordinator Rita Karaminas-Gilbert instigated the program at Young High, after consulting with other educators and Wiradjuri elders over the first half of the year.

She said the school had almost 50 aboriginal students, with more and more identifying as indigenous as the school developed their programs aimed at indigenous culture. 

“Language is linked with identity, it’s extremely important,” she said.

Rita said the program had been received positively by elders in town.

“The Aboriginal Land Council was absolutely impressed with Young High, the majority of elders were Young High students themselves back when aboriginal culture was not embraced…they’re happy to see they’re being acknowledged,” she said.

Principal Andrew Turvey jumped at the opportunity to undertake the program when approached by Rita.

“It’s about paying respect to the past,” he said.

“Australia has a very long history, but we don’t always recognise it.”

The school hopes to continue the program beyond this year, and both Young Public and Young North have expressed interest in teaching the language in primary levels. 

Harry and Letetia wished to thank Wiradjuri elders uncle Stan Grant, Aunty Sheryl Riley, Aunty Di McNaboe and Uncle Chirstopher Kirkbright.