Passing on lost knowledge

Loretta Halloran with an Aboriginal style pottery work.

Tumut’s Loretta Halloran was filled with pride to see Malcolm Turnbull talk about efforts to preserve and teach the aboriginal Ngunnawal language on TV Tuesday night.

She’s a Ngunnawal woman, born on a mission in Yass, and along with her family Ms Halloran was one of the driving forces behind recording the language and getting it into schools.

Her daughter Roslyn Brown is the Elder in Residence at the University of Canberra, and she was the one who convinced her mum to share her knowledge with the next generation.

“They asked me a couple of years ago if I would go over to Canberra and help with the language,” she said.

“I wrote down everything that I do remember. I never went to school, but there’s a lot of things I know – about life, about my culture.

“I remember someone told me once, as you get older you’ll start remembering the language. I’ll be walking around, and the next minute, a word will come into my head and I’ll write it down.

“If I’m out shopping now and I can’t find my children I’ll sing out in the Ngunnawal language to them. I’ll say to them [speaks in Ngunnawal], which means I’m tired or I’m hungry, and we’ll go get something to eat.

“I was born in 1936 on a mission. So how do I feel about the language being taught now? I’m happy! I’m happy that the children, all children, aboriginal and white children, can learn the language, and they love it. It’s a beautiful language.”

Ms Halloran is on the Elders Council of Canberra, and regularly liaises with government departments, the defence force, schools, and hospitals about their relationships with the traditional owners of Canberra land – the Ngunnawal.

She’s been invited to watch Q&A on Monday night in the studio audience, and said she’s in Canberra so often her friends wonder if she’s moved.

She still lives in Tumut though, where she moved after marrying Tumut farmer Greg Halloran many decades ago.

“I lived in Melbourne for a while and I came back to Tumut, where my father and my [future] husband grew a lot of millet and corn – acres of it,” remembered Ms Halloran.

“My father and I went to the Star Hotel, and the man that dropped him off, in an old red Ford, my father introduced me to him. The next day there was all this noise in the paddock and I heard all these men.

“One was standing at the fence and he called me over and he said I need some hot water, could you get me some hot water – it was the man my father introduced me to, his name was Greg Halloran. I got the billycan from him and there were chocolates in it!

“We started going out for a while, I’d go to Melbourne and come back, and we ended up together. We had three children, two boys and a girl, and we got married.”

She now has 17 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, with her children scattered everywhere from Japan to Bhutan – and of course, Canberra. Her grandson Cheyne Halloran travels to remote missions all over the state collecting fragments of lost languages, where her daughters working with politicians ensure the knowledge is passed on.