Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre revives Tasmanian Aboriginal language palawa kani

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) is a state-wide organisation with a record of outstanding achievement of their organisation’s aims to retrieve, maintain, develop and protect Tasmanian Aboriginal culture and heritage.
A palawa kani language game at Launceston Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre. PhotoAboriginal Land Council of Tasmania

TAC has offices in the south, north and north-west of the state of Tasmania, which also deliver services to the Bass Strait Islands and to many regional and rural areas. In addition to legal and health services, TAC offers a wide range of programs including  land management, language retrieval, youth diversion, cultural support, oral history, education, and child and family programs run from the children’s health and wellbeing centres in Hobart and Launceston.

In 1990, no more than a few words of any Tasmanian Aboriginal language remained in use. Since then, through TAC, the Aboriginal community has developed palawa kani, a composite language retrieved from documentary evidence and community memory of the probable six to twelve original languages of Tasmania.

The goal of the community language program is for Tasmanian Aborigines to speak palawa kani. TAC has worked to incorporate the language into its childcare and health services and as many other areas of community life as possible. palawa kani language is now taught statewide to Aborigines of all age groups, through the programs and activities of Aboriginal community organisations. Particular focus is on early childhood and school aged children and their families.

TAC has received funding from the Australian Government’s Indigenous Languages Support (ILS) program and its forerunners for over a decade.  Over this period, TAC has produced a considerable number of language resources particularly targeted at pre-school and school aged children and intended for use within families.  These resources include counting books, story books, phrase books, written exercise activity books, compilations of games and songs in language and wordlists -many with accompanying audio CDs. Language activities are incorporated into family oriented programs such as the Parental and Community Engagement program (PACE) to ensure language use is encouraged across all generations. The strategies used by TAC to promote the use of language have produced both positive and significant outcomes, with palawa kani now being spoken regularly at Aboriginal community events; being taught in three Aboriginal Child Care Centres and to school aged children across the state; and incorporated in sports and family days.

According to TAC, palawa kani “...is being spoken again; the revived language is being fully documented to avoid future loss; cultural heritage is preserved and enhanced; individuals’ confidence and pride in identity is reinforced; specialist skills are developed by Aborigines. Already language functions as a cohesive social marker among youth and children especially. Young people in particular use language as an identity marker in conversation, emails, SMS and internet social sites such as facebook.” (Submission to the House of Representatives Inquiry into Language Learning in Indigenous Communities, 2011)

Languages are both an expression of culture and the vehicle through which culture is kept alive. TAC’s far-reaching  work reviving palawa kani and advocating for the Tasmanian Aboriginal population is helping to ensure that Aboriginal culture is protected and maintained for future generations.  

 Image 1 : A palawa kani language game in NAIDOC Week 2012 at the Launceston Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, involving children, parents and grandparents. Photo: Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania