Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

The First Nations’ Pertame language is severely endangered, and at risk of becoming yet another lost language within the next generation. Also known as Southern Arrernte, it is a Central Australian language that belongs to the Country around the Finke and Hugh Rivers, about 100 km south of Alice Springs. Right now, there are fewer than 10 fluent speakers of this language.

Retaining the Pertame language

The Pertame School is a community-led language program working with Pertame Elders to pass their language and cultural knowledge down to the next generation. They provide a learning platform to grow the next generation of Pertame speakers through the Centre for Australian Languages and Linguistics (CALL).

In doing so, their objective is to create a thriving, connected Pertame community, with increased mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing through language and cultural renewal. With almost all fluent speakers of Pertame within the grandparent and great-grandparent generation, there was an urgent need to invest heavily in the development of community leaders and the next generation of Pertame language teachers.

Since starting in 2017, the Pertame School has grown to include school holiday programs for children, in-school classes, adults’ evening classes and a master-apprentice program. The Pertame School runs as a project through CALL within the Batchelor Institute’s research division. The Institute manages the project’s finances and provides classrooms, office space and vehicles, and CALL provides support and advice to the Pertame project, but all CALL language projects are required to self-fund through grants and philanthropic donations.

With a grant from the 2020 Larger Leverage round of FRRR’s Strengthening Rural Communities program, funded by The Maple-Brown Family Foundation, the Northern Territory’s Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education has continued to deliver their Master-Apprentice Program (MAP). MAP utilises innovative learning techniques originating from Indigenous communities in southern California that are centred around one-on-one oral immersion sessions with Elders – the Masters – which sees a return to the old ways of learning.

One of the apprentices is Shania Armstrong – a recent grade 12 graduate and young Traditional Owner who is taking part in MAP and teaching what she has learned to the next generation of Pertame speakers on Arrente Country.

Shania is part of her family’s dedicated multi-generational involvement in the program, with her great-grandmother, Nana Christobel Swan, one of the last Pertame speakers and the one of the program’s key ‘Masters’. Going from her great-grandmother’s reality of not being allowed to speak her language at school, to being a steward for the regeneration of Pertame has been a great source of pride for Shania and her community. Knowing that this regeneration has already and will continue to grow not just a strong source of social cohesion but a sense of self and culture, is just one of Shania’s motivations to do all she can to heal Country in this way.

In an interview with the ABC’s Healing Country program presenter Lillie Madden, Shania described her involvement in the program.

“When I got the chance to learn my language I took it. I want to keep doing what I’m doing and teach my language so it never dies. The kids love learning their language. Every time they come to a Pertame class they always have a big smile on their face.”

The FRRR grant was used to pay for qualifications and training for apprentices; language learning resources; a contribution towards transport and food costs; as well as towards apprentice employment payments.

Batchelor Institute’s CALL and the Pertame School is proud of this solutions-focused initiative and its wide-reaching impact on the broader community. Learn more here.

Retaining the Pertame language

The traditional owners of Gunbalanya is the Gumurdul family who allow Injalak to operate on their land and are actively supportive of the art centre.

About 500 km from Darwin, you can find the region of Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory. For six months of the year, you can cross the East Alligator River to Gunbalanya. For the remainder of the year, the river is too high, cutting Gunbalanya and the 1,200 people that live there, off from the rest of the country.

Like many First Nations communities, Gunbalanya is rich with culture and heritage, with a strong desire to pass on this traditional knowledge, particularly among young people. Indigenous community art centres play an important role in the artistic and cultural life of traditional Aboriginal artists living in remote communities.

Gunbalunya’s Injalak Arts centre in West Arnhem Land supports over 350 Indigenous Kunwinjku artists. They provide professional development programmes, workshops, mentoring support and On Country trips to collect art materials. Pre-COVID times, thousands of tourists would visit Injalak Arts every year to witness the art, music, natural environment, and many other culturally significant activities.

In the midst of COVID restrictions, with no visitors to the region allowed, Injalak Arts ran a two-week music workshop and a week-long live video production workshop that involved local musicians recording and rehearsing songs, as well as coaching and mentoring for eight members of the newly formed Media Unit who learnt all about live production. Thanks to a $10,000 Strengthening Rural Communities grant, funded by the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, Injalak Arts was able to pay artist and consultation fees with Indigenous Australians who led the workshops.

The COVID-19 restrictions, and subsequent absence of any visitors to witness the performance, weren’t an issue for the production team, as the Media Unit used iPhones and iPads to stream the performance. People across the country were able to tune in, with some even watching from the UK.

The project brought the community together and provided an opportunity to demonstrate their creative expertise and talents, as well as developing new skills in live television production.

Injalak Arts’ Culture and Media Officer Alex Ressel explained the grant has had ongoing benefits for the community.

“We have since utilised this experience and equipment on other video projects in western Arnhem Land, so it is not necessary to employ external camera operators to document and live stream cultural events in western Arnhem Land.

“When bininj (Indigenous) people are behind the camera as well as in front of it, a radically different form of moving image work is created, enabling a culture to define its own mode of representation, ask the right questions.

“It means we can employ local Indigenous people and keep money circulating within community, as well as making the representation of Kunwinjku culture to wide and diverse audiences.”

In the East MacDonnell ranges of the Northern Territory, The Harts Range Amateur Race Club (HRARC) hosts a 73-year tradition – an annual bush sports weekend that attracts more than 2,500 visitors to this very remote community. It is one of few events that brings this extremely disadvantaged community together, to connect socially and facilitate community wellbeing.

The Club’s facilities are also used for Central Land Council meetings, consultations, and community events. But the canteen, which is run by Isolated Children’s and Parents Association, was in much need of repair. The Club received $10,000 through the Strengthening Rural Communities program, thanks to the support of the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation. They used the funding to purchase two domestic rangehood exhaust fans plus fittings, and for a roof spinning ventilator for over the BBQ area. In addition, they were able to attract in-kind support from other organisations, members and volunteers in the community, enabling a full upgrade to the canteen. Mark Coffey, the Club’s Public Officer, reported that the project brought together volunteers, most of whom live more than two hours away, local businesses and the Atitjere community for a project that will provide an improved working environment for the community for many years to come.

“For everyone, COVID-19 has made this year a challenge, so it was great to be able to form such a good partnership between HRARC, Scope and FRRR, which made this project so much easier to deliver especially for our volunteers. “We are proud that this kitchen upgrade will ensure a modern and more functional kitchen for years to come.”

Mark Coffey, HRARC Public Officer