Advocates call for legislative protection for Aboriginal languages in bid to address decline of native tongues

ABC Goldfields: By Guilia Bertoglio

“It makes me feel very sad, I should have learned it off my grandmother.”

David Wolgar is talking about Mirning, an Aboriginal language of the Nullarbor coast that no longer has speakers learning it as their mother tongue.

“Those days are gone,” Mr Wolgar adds, a note of regret in his voice.

“If I knew the language, I could pass it on.”

About 300 Indigenous languages were spoken across Australia at the time of colonisation. 

But the nation has since seen one of the highest rates of language loss in the world, with less than 30 Indigenous languages spoken as a first language today.

Wanting to reverse that trend, Mirning representatives knocked on the doors of the Goldfields Language Centre, in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, 600 kilometres east of Perth, asking them to help.

But, due to funding stipulations, the centre can only focus its revival efforts on the West Australian side of the border, even though Mirning Country, language and song lines stretch across the Nullarbor Plain into South Australia.

Advocates say restrictions like these make language revival difficult. 

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MTLAC Director David Wolgar at the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre in Kalgoorlie with Linguist Jackie Coffin.
MTLAC Director David Wolgar and linguist Jackie Coffin reading Mirning posters created and sold by the language centre.