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A Body of Scholarship

I submit that unless a body of scholarship is created around the existing Australian traditional languages, they all run the risk of being lost, in the same manner that has befallen around 200 languages already in our country.

It is generally agreed that there were around 300 separate languages in Australia in 1788 and that only about 40 of those languages survive, in any form, today. Although currently, probably 30,000 First Australians have a traditonal language as their first means of communication, only a small percentage of those people can read and write both traditional language and English at a fluent level, along with a worthy group of non-Aboriginal linguists.

The first of the non-Aboriginal linguists to take things to a commendable level was the inimitable Beulah Lowe in the early 1950s. In gratitude to the traditional elders of north-east Arnhem Land who taught her their languages, Beulah helped her teachers themselves to achieve literacy in both Australian and English. Perhaps the scheme I propose might be called Beulah's Body of Scholarship (BBS)?

Although there is debate on this point, it is my assertion that Aboriginal children who speak traditional languages will best learn to speak, read and write English if they are encouraged at the outset to be fluent and literate in their first language.

In any case, I suggest that the desired body of scholarship should first be encouraged via children of all Australian backgrounds, in schools and Scout groups, and that enjoyment can be derived if music is used as the first approach to learning the old languages.

It will be important to establish which traditional languages are still viable, and concentrate on these, using the traditional knowledge of the relevant First Australian speakers, plus the professional skills of linguists, musicians and educators.

I propose using the Kutju Australia project as a guide to schools, Scout groups and other bodies suitable for incorporation in the establishment of the scheme. The Kutju Kit consists of a beautiful full colour book, a CD and a DVD. The kit enables nine year old Carmelina Mulkatana to teach viewers the words of Kutju Australia, an Australian translation of Advance Australia Fair. is the official web site of Ted Egan, © Ted Egan.