Former Mayor Sue Bulger on why Our Languages Matter

Members of the Wiradjuri Language class at the Tumut TAFE, with Sue Bulger seated in the centre.

This year’s NAIDOC Week theme is ‘Our Languages Matter,’ a fitting decision locally given the Wiradjuri language classes that have been happening at the TAFE and Charles Sturt University in Wagga over the past year. Former mayor and Indigenous community leader Sue Bulger had this to say on the subject:

I’m lucky to be a part of the language class at TAFE, the Wiradjuri language, and also to be a part of the group that studies at Charles Sturt University in Wagga doing the graduate certificate.

Some people are coming from the furthest places in Wiradjuri country to learn that language. We are now able to recapture our language, because as children we were able to use some words in our language, but we couldn’t speak it fluently. That’s our goal, is that when we’re somewhere with other speakers of Wiradjuri that we’re able to have a conversation, to be able to talk, in our own language, the language that we were born into, that now we can speak again.

Today we can only speak sentences, but we do have times when we go away to uni to be immersed in our language so that we’re just speaking Wiradjuri, so that there’s no English allowed.

Growing up as children we only had a limited vocabulary of Wiradjuri language and that was due to, not because our parents and our families didn’t want to pass it on, but because of policies the government set to assimilate Aboriginal people into the wider community.

Aboriginal people were told to live on the mission; there were rules that said you must not live somewhere else, and our parents were forbidden to speak their native language, their first language, but were encouraged, either through penalties or…other means, to speak English, because that was the language of the wider community.

Another policy that interrupted the learning of that language was taking children from their families. The stolen generation, who were taken as children.

Of course when you’re a child you learn that language from your parents and your grandparents, particularly those closest to you in your family, and if you are removed from that no language is being passed on.

That was another policy that was inflicted on Aboriginal people, in the guise of the Aboriginal Protection Board. After 50 or 60 years we are now, the people of Brungle, Wiradjuri people, getting our language back.

We’re bringing it back, we’re bringing it out into the community, and now we can make up for that time when children were taken away and didn’t learn it. Now, as people in our communities, we aim to take that back to our families, our children, our older people, and they can then speak Wiradjuri language as their language at home.

It’s great that this year’s theme is that Our Languages Matter, that’s for Aboriginal languages throughout Australia, and particularly for us Wiradjuri, language matters.

We’re very glad to be a part of the learning and discovering area of TAFE, and we’re vey lucky because when we go to our residential school at CSU the other students don’t have that weekly input into language that we have.

We’re very lucky to have that each week, so that we can become fluent and so we have a group that can speak together, because if we don’t speak it we’ll forget it. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

I’m really happy that we are bringing our language back into the community because our languages do matter.