Supporting Language Reclamation

In Victoria, there are currently over 1,000* students in Victoria learning a Victorian Aboriginal language in a formal school-based languages program. This is unprecedented in Victoria and a direct result of the Koorie Languages in Schools Programs, supported by a collaborative partnership involving VAEAI, the Victorian Aboriginal Languages Corporation (VACL), the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority (VCAA) and the Department of Education and Training (DET).

*Based on a survey of participating schools conducted mid 2015 (VAEAI report to DET, 2015)

The Koorie Languages in Schools Program and pilot trial developed from the strong and long-term desire of Koorie families and communities for language and cultural learning in education, and improved education outcomes for their children.

In each school, classes are for all students in the target levels – both Koorie and non-Koorie, and all schools are teaching the traditional Aboriginal languages of the peoples whose land the school is situated on.

A dedicated VCAA website has been established to support these language programs and the introduction of Koorie languages in schools through Web 2.0 technology,  and includes information about how to get a schools language program going, a standards and protocols guide for teaching Victorian Aboriginal Languages and online language resources, sample units of study, a wiki and online community forums/chat-rooms.

Check out and explore the project website at

What makes these school based language programs successful and unique, is the effective collaboration between the partners involved and the protocols in place to support them. As a result, all formal Victorian Koorie Language and Culture programs in government schools must and do have school council support along with Traditional Owner and Koorie Community support through their Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (LAECG) before commencing. Additionally language teachers are ideally supported at the school level by a language team consisting of the language teacher, language specialist, experienced Language other than English (LOTE) teacher and a linguist experienced in Aboriginal languages.

Across Victoria, seven schools are currently participating in the Koorie Languages in Schools Program, with an eighth school trialing an alternative languages-rotation model. The Koorie Languages in Schools Program commenced in 2012, with three schools as part of an initial trial. These initial pilot schools were Thornbury Primary School in Melbourne’s inner-northern suburbs, Heywood and Districts Secondary College in the south-west, and Swan Hill Primary School in the State’s north-west. While Koorie language programs are offered to all students in a target group, each of these pilot schools has a significant number of Koorie students.

To learn more about the initial pilot schools, click here.

Since the pilot schools commenced, four additional schools have come on board: Bright P-12 College in the north-east, Robinvale P-12 College and Mildura Primary School in the state’s north-west; Gowrie St Primary School in Shepparton; and Melton West Primary School in Melbourne’s west most recently, in 2016.

There is no single model or formula for the way programs are developed and delivered, with each program determined by the needs, resources and preferred approaches of the local communities– both Koorie and school.

Why it’s so good to be learning Aboriginal languages

According to Stephanie Tashkoff, Coordinator of the Dhawurd Wurrung Language Program at Heywood Districts and Secondary College, the Koorie Languages in Schools Program has been extremely beneficial for all students undertaking the course - making connections between the history and culture of where they live, developing understanding and appreciation for local language and culture, as well as encouraging their language acquisition and assisting the development of the different neural pathways that are engaged in language learning.

For Koorie students in particular, further benefits are around developing an enhanced sense of pride and awareness of local language and culture, particularly for students who don’t have a strong connection to the community. For the school community overall, there is a sense of pride in being a school that offers a Koorie language; and being a school that is developing a sense of ‘this is who we are’.

Keen to find out more? Read on ...

Bright P-12 College Dhudhuroa and Murinpatha Languages Program

The Bright P-12 College Dhudhuroa and Murinpatha Languages Program involving Years 9-12 has been taught by Rebecca Crawley, who lived in the Wadeye community of NT for several years, and students from Wadeye who board at Bright, and visiting Wadeye community members, assist with the language teaching component.

The program is unique. Through it two languages are taught – Dhudhuroa, the local Victorian Aboriginal language through the support of Traditional Owner Garry Murray, and Murinpatha, a non-Victorian Aboriginal language, taught through a partnership with the Aboriginal community in Wadeye, Northern Territory, thereby assisting boarding-students from that community in maintaining their home language. Remarkably, a number of senior students from Bright P-12 are studying Dhudhuroa at VCE (Senior secondary level) – the only ones in the state.

Additionally, Wadeye students teach Murinpatha to the Bright students so they can communicate more effectively with community members during their Year 9 and Year 11 visits to Wadeye in the NT.

To see some of the classes in action and hear about this unique VCE program, click here.

A highlight of the year is the annual Marngrook football game held in Bright, where students are divided into language representative teams, and coached in appropriate language so that any listener can hear both Dhudhuroa and Murinpatha chants shouted across the oval during the game.

To watch some of the Marngrook game in Bright, click on here.


Mildura Primary School Barkindji-Marawara Language Program

Mildura Primary School initiated a Barkindji-Marawara Language Program in 2013. Students from Prep - 6 are taught Barkindji Language, art and culture by Barkindji Traditional Owner Ivan Johnson. The program is now well established and in 2015 has been supported by the Sharing Stories Foundation (SSF) Digital Storytelling Program. 

As part of the SSF Digital Storytelling Program, Mildura Primary School students travelled onto Country at Lake Mungo and the Willandra Lakes System with the Sharing Stories team, Koorie Engagement Support Officer (KESO) and language teacher Ivan Johnson and met up with Warren Clark the executive officer of Mungo Joint Management. Several of the Mungo Discovery Rangers were also involved on the day, as well as senior Paakantji (Barkindji) cultural custodians Lottie Williams, Noel Johnson and Junette Mitchell who welcomed the students to Country. The excursion involved the Elders present sharing stories and an interpretation of Thalta, the story of the Red Kangaroo which tells of how the Lake Mungo and Willandra Lakes area came into being. Ivan Johnson and Narkie E Mitchell talked to the students about the Ngiyaampaa, Mathi Mathi and Barkindji versions of the Thalta story. The three language groups each have their own version of the Thalta story about creation of the Willandra Lakes area and aspects of all three have been inscribed into rock sculpture by Barkindji cultural custodian Badger Bates.

Students involved in the program will be working on the Barkindji version of the Thalta story initially, with the intention that with additional funding, in response to the wishes of senior custodians, and in collaboration with the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area, all three versions of the story will be documented as part of the SSF Digital Storytelling Program. 

Students documented the story-telling process using iPads and audio recorders and back at school discussed what they had learnt and, as a group, created an animated, storyboarded interpretation. They discussed how the story might most effectively be communicated through a variety of digital media techniques and commenced the creation of drawings and paintings to be animated.
For more information about the SharingStories project in Victoria click here.  

Mildura Primary Schools students learning about and digitising  Thalta, the story of the Red Kangaroo with the Sharing Stories Foundation and Traditional Owners in 2015.




Robinvale P-12 College Yakilla Yarna Thalingi Program 

Robinvale P-12 College commenced the Yakilla Yarna Thalingi Program in April 2015 (involving Years 1 & 2) with the topic: Parts of the Body, taught by Latji Latji language specialist Brendan Kennedy, who had been trying to establish a school-based language program in the region for a number of years.

The Language Program name  Yakilla Yarna Thalingi, means ”Learning to Speak Language" and includes a combination of four languages, being Tati Tati, Latji Latji, Mutti Mutti and to lesser extent Wadi Wadi, when there is not a known or recorded word from the first three languages.

Robinvale P-12 College provides an alternative integrated-language program for their students in the early years (P-3), under a term-rotation system, with students participating in the Yakilla Yarna Thalingi program for a term, followed by other introduced community languages - Tongan, Chinese & Italian (e.g. term 1 Koorie Language, term 2 Tongan, term 3 Chinese, term 4 Italian). From Year 4 onwards, students have the option of selecting one language to progress with to Year 10.

The Language and Culture teacher, Brendan Kennedy has written and illustrated a number of modern stories in language. Mr Kennedy was born at Robinvale on Tati Tati Country and is a descendant of the Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi and Mutti Mutti tribal lands and language groups.

As well as the school-based program, Mr Kennedy is also teaching language classes at Murray Valley Aboriginal Co-operative Early Child-Care Centre, Robinvale Pre-School and Mallee Family Care Playgroup.

To find out more about the Robinvale program and Brendan Kennedy’s work click here.

To view or download a learning resource about parts of the body from the Yakilla Yama Thalingi Program click on the sample picture or here.



Gowrie St Primary School Yorta Yorta Language Program

At Gowrie Street Primary School in Shepparton, Yorta Yorta language has been taught by Melinda Solomon and Annette Tricarico, with the support of specialist language teacher Ebony Joachim. The school’s language team consists of Melinda, Annette, Ebony, and members of the Yorta Yorta Nations Co-op.

The Gowrie St. Yorta Yorta Language Program is taught to all students in Years P-6, and emerged as a community-led initiative. For this reason there is a lot of community support, and the program is actively assisted by community members. Students also visit the Rumbalara Aged Care Facility in Shepparton, where students interact with Elders using Language words, and Elders share stories.

To watch a video clip of the Gowrie St Primary School Yorta Yorta lessons, click here.



Melton West Primary School Woiwurrung Language Program

The most recent school to join the Koorie Languages in Schools program, is Melton West Primary School, with its neighbour Kurunjang Primary School in the background keenly watching its development.

Following over 12 months of negotiations with Traditional Owners, Wurundjeri Tribal Land Council to find the most suitable teaching model, actively facilitated by VAEAI, Melton West Primary School commenced a Woiwurrung language program in term 2, 2016, starting with all preps – five classes in total. The program, taught by Wurundjeri specialist Mathew Gardiner has been a great success from the outset.

Mr Gardiner additionally runs the ‘Koorie Club’ at the school. This involves between 35-40 Aboriginal students. Koorie Club is run weekly in ordinary class time and in 2 groups, i.e. Years P-2 and 3-6 (each attending fortnightly). Koorie club brings the students together and incorporates art, stories, language, discussions – lots of flexibility and avenue for growth.

Some credit for the program’s success is due to the vision, patience and perseverance of the current principal Michelle Costa, especially, through the long negotiations, and the wisdom of Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Doreen Garvey-Wandin in instituting a series of weekly community language workshops to assist Mr Gardiner in his language skills and confidence and build a pool of potential Woiwurrung teachers. What has eventuated is a dynamic language program involving the full support and co-ownership of Traditional Owners, with extremely positive outcomes for students and community members.

Due to the popularity and quick success of the program, there has been a fair amount of local and state media interest in and promotion of the Melton West PS Language program.

To hear Mathew Gardiner talking with 774 ABC about the Melton program, the place of culture in language and reviving language, click on here.

To see how the program has been featured in the print media click here and here.