Elders pass on songs in race to save languages
Date: December 7 2005
WHEN the Queen's baton relay travels through the Yarra Ranges in February next year, more than just the Commonwealth Games baton will pass hands.
Through song, traditional Aboriginal languages many close to extinction will be transmitted from elders to a new generation.
The Aboriginal Children's Choir was launched in Healesville yesterday, in the hope that languages such as the Wurundjeri people's Woiwurrung will not be lost forever.
Aboriginal children, from prep to year 12, are being encouraged to join, with the choir's first performance scheduled for February 20, when the baton relay arrives in Healesville.
But with local languages rarely spoken now, even among elders, the huge challenge of getting the song words on paper lies ahead.
Wurundjeri elder Joy Murphy will work with the choir, writing songs in Woiwurrung for the children, while the Aboriginal Community Elders Services Choir also offered to help.
Elders choir member Denis Atkinson said music had always been a way of sharing language, tradition and stories through the generations.
"I think it's a great idea because we're able to keep a part of our language, even if it's only a little bit," he said. "Once you learn it by song, you've got it all the time."
Tara Atkinson, nine, granddaughter of Yorta Yorta elders' spokesman Henry Atkinson, will be one of the first to join.
Her mother, Colleen Atkinson, said she was thrilled that her daughter, who sings at home, could learn the traditional language, an opportunity she never had. "When my kids went to school and had the opportunity to learn a different language, I was really upset, because I thought, 'why aren't they learning their own language? Why are they learning Chinese or Japanese'?" she said. "I think it's great maybe she'll be able to teach me too."
Ms Atkinson said her father was slowly remembering fragments of the language, which was often forbidden in colonial times. "I can remember Dad telling me stories about when his brother was at school, and whenever his brother spoke the language he'd get belted for it," she said.
The choir, which will perform at several Games events, received a start-up grant from the Yarra Ranges Shire.
Its acting musical director, Belinda Gillam, said Aborigines would be trained later for roles such as musical director and accompanist, "whether the accompanist will be a pianist as it is in traditional choirs, or someone playing didgeridoos or clapping sticks".