The Wirlomin Project: Sustaining Aboriginal Language and Song

By Clint Bracknell.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Aboriginal people, language, and song inform a rich sense of place in Australia. The Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project is an example of how Noongar people in the southwest are claiming, consolidating, and enhancing their endangered cultural heritage and sharing ancestral material within an ever-widening, concentric circle of people. In this context, I will examine the value of community-driven Aboriginal language revitalisation efforts and the potential function of local Aboriginal song idioms in broader cultural sustainability activities. Instigators of the Wirlomin Project wanted to consolidate archival notes on Noongar language in a ‘home community’ and began a series of workshops in which key descendants of archival ‘informants’ oversaw the development of a few stories and the eventual publication of bi-lingual, illustrated books. Elders and descendents discussed pronunciation, semantics, cultural references and other stories that came to mind, adding much more information than had existed in the archives. With key Elders at the centre, this process has extended itself into schools and prisons, inspiring members of the ‘home community’ to develop new cultural works, including songs, visual art, dances, film, electronic media, and literature. The Wirlomin Project is an example of a successful model of combining archival data, Aboriginal knowledge and community development.

Keywords: Indigenous, Language Maintenance, Music, Song, Ethnomusicology, Revitalisation

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp.45-55. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 574.186KB).

Clint Bracknell

Assistant Professor, School of Indigenous Studies, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia

Assistant Professor Bracknell descends from Aboriginal people of the south east coast of Western Australia (WA). His cultural Elders use the term ‘Wirlomin Noongar’ to refer to their clan. Clint has taught and coordinated undergraduate and postgraduate units for the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia since 2010. He is currently completing postgraduate research on Aboriginal musical and linguistic heritage in the south of WA and is an executive committee member of the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project (www.wirlomin.com.au), an Aboriginal organisation involved in linguistic and cultural sustainability. A musician, educator and researcher, Clint Bracknell was nominated for Best Original Score in the 2012 Helpmann Awards, received the Department of Education WA Barry Hayward Outstanding Aboriginal Educator Award in 2010 and the State Library of Western Australia J.S. Battye Research Fellowship Award in 2013.