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, eleven schools are currently participating in the Koorie Languages in Schools Program, teaching seven Victorian Aboriginal Languages.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.

Learn more about the initial pilot schools.

Since the pilot schools commenced, 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; Melton West Primary School in Melbourne’s west and more recently Bruxton Primary School, and Bruthen and Paynsville Primary Schools in the Gippsland Region

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. Some start with a target level, such as preps or P-2 and build up, others start teaching across the 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 is 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’.

School Koorie Language Programs across Victoria  ... 



Bright P-12 College Dhudhuroa and Murinpatha Languages Program

The Bright P-12 College Dhudhuroa and Murinpatha Languages Program involving Years 9-12 is taught by Rebecca Crawley, and more recently Susan Joyce, with students from Wadeye who board at Bright, and visiting Wadeye community members, who 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.

According to Rebecca Crawley, the students love the language program. One Murinpatha student boarding from Wadeye has said it makes more sense to him that any other learning area at the school, while other boarders have expressed that they “Can’t believe they’re getting to do this at school”. Non-Koorie students have expressed that they feel they’re connecting to the place they live in, through being involved in this language program.

“The program teaches more than language. It teaches empathy and teaches students to think about other people’s cultures and perspectives. Students learn so much that’s important to their life on this country at an important part of their life,” Rebecca adds.

In 2018, Year 9 students are involved in a project which sees them visiting a local Seniors Home fortnightly and teaching them about Dhudhuroa language and what they have learnt culturally. The residents who have mostly grown up in the area are according to Rebecca ‘soaking it up’! Many have had little or no exposure to Koorie People and cultural information and are greatly impressed and supportive. Students are making a video as part of their project.

Rebecca feels that the school is very supportive of the Language Program, as is Traditional Owner Garry Murray and the Wadeye Elders involved in their Indigenous Leadership Program.

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.


Scotch College VCE Dhudhuroa

Three former students of Bright P-12 are undertaking their VCE studies in 2018 at Scotch College in Melbourne. The students are continuing their Dhudhuroa studies at VCE level via Distant Education with Bright P-12, managed by the head of LOTE at Scotch College.

Following established protocols, permissions to study Dhudhuroa on Wurundjeri Country were successfully negotiated with the Wurundjeri Council, as Scotch College is on Wurundjeri Land. This is a great model for Distance Education, and highly commendable given that the studies are at VCE level.


Wooragee Primary School Dhudhuroa Language Program

With only twenty-six students, Wooragee Primary School near the town of Beechworth started a Dhudhuroa Language program in early 2018, taught by Rebecca (Bec) Crawley.

The program was initiated by John Pryor from the Benalla DET Regional Office, former Principal at Bright P-12 (which also offers Dhudhuroa), with Wooragee PS being one of the schools in his catchment area. As the school had no Languges (LOTE) teacher, John saw the opportunity to introduce Dhudhuroa at the school, further supported by KESO Tammy Campbell, who also supports Bright P-12.

There are two classes at Wooragee Primary School, P-3 and 4-6. School Principal Alicia Odewahn is very pleased to be able to offer the Indigenous Languages Program here at school, 'We feel so lucky to be able to work with Bec and her team,' she says.

Music and djinabi (possum skin cloak) made by Ngarra Murray, at Wooragee PS; photos courtesy Rebecca Crawley



Mildura Primary School Barkindji-Marawara Language Program

Mildura Primary School started the Barkindji-Marawara Language Program in 2013 with students from Prep - 6 taught Barkindji Language, art and culture by Barkindji Traditional Owner Ivan Johnson. Each class has a unit of study.

In 2018 students are learning more about family names, working through language for weather, and names of native animals. Grades 3 and 4 will be learning about megafauna and animal names. Younger grades are making little puppets and ornaments out of clay in the program, and older students are producing art works and art pieces, working through symbols, learning what the mean and putting them into a story.Through the art program, students will also be making clay artefacts, clapsticks, didgeridoos and jewellery. The boys also learn dancing, with Peter Peterson.

Ivan Johnson learnt Barkindji growing up ‘We still had language, just never spoken it fluently. Had a lot growing up, around Mildura, NSW-side name about 20 km out, language for animals, places and plants around ..’

In late 2017, Mungo Man was ceremoniously returned to Country. Through the language program, Ivan regularly takes the students on excursions to Mungo National Park. He takes the year 3-4 up to the Wall and shows them old fireplaces and extinct animal homes. They love rolling down the dunes.

In 2015, the program was 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 provided the Yakilla Yarna Thalingi Program from 2015 - 2017 (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 provided 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. The program is not offered currently.

As well as the school-based program, Mr Kennedy also teaches 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

Following two years of preparation prior to commencement, Gowrie St. Primary School in Shepparton started teaching Yorta Yorta in 2015, initially with Melinda Solomon and Annette Tricarico, and the support of specialist language teacher Ebony Joachim.  In 2018 the program is delivered by Yorta Yorta teacher Roxanne Atkinson with the support of  classroom teacher Annette Tricario, the Yorta Yorta Nations and visiting Elders such as local Merle Miller who is regularly involved in the program to share cultural knowledge and stories. 

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.

For Marion Wetherbee the Principal, having this program embedded in the school’s curriculum is extremely important for cultural identity.  “The students love it! For most it is their favourite specialist subject”, she adds. The school has a dedicated facility, a separate annex to the main building which is very inviting and comfortable.

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



Melton West Primary School Woiwurrung Language Program

Melton West Primary School commenced a Woiwurrung language program in 2016, following over 12 months of negotiations with Traditional Owners, Wurundjeri Tribal Land Council to find the most suitable teaching model.  The program, starting with all preps and taught by Wurundjeri specialist Mathew Gardiner and Rebecca Axford  was a great success from the outset. Due to the shortage of Woiwurrung teachers at this time, the program is not running in 2018. 

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

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 featured in the print media click here and here.



Gippsland Language Programs

Bruthen Primary School in the Gippsland Region, introduced a Gunai-Kurnai Culture Program throughout the school in second semester 2017, led by Nicole Hood, a qualified Koorie school teacher from the Gippsland community. With ten Koorie students and a total school population of only forty six, Bruthen is one of the newest schools to teach a Victorian Koorie Language, in this case through a broader Cultural Studies Program, rather than a formal LOTE program.

The program came about following a conversation between the relatively new school principal Michelle Young and one of her school captains – a Koorie student. Michelle asked him what he would like to see at the school to make it a better school and he thought Aboriginal culture and language was what was missing. Michelle Young put the proposition to the school and there was unanimous agreement. With KESO Brad Kenny’s assistance, Michelle met with a group of Community Elders to seek their support, and Brad Kenny spoke with families and other community members about introducing a cultural program at the school. Koorie and non-Koorie families were then invited to a school ‘Community Yarn’ as they wanted everyone on board and involved. At the Community Yarn event, ideas were gathered for what was to form the foundation of their program, a 12-month plan – what they wanted taught and how they wanted it taught.

Classroom teacher Nicole Hood leads the program. Nicole was keen to take up the opportunity, in particular, to be able to learn more, and be involved in teaching language as part of the proposed cultural program. Students have learnt basic language – common animals, greetings, numbers, counting and colours, and the weekly school assembly provides an opportunity for plenty of language sharing, practice and use.

Principal Michelle Young is keen for all students and staff to have a deeper cultural and historical understanding – ‘to know the right stories, the true stories’ of the region. Students are showing genuine compassion in their learning and are greatly concerned about what they learn. and teachers are applying new cultural understandings into their planning across the whole curriculum. Michelle believes that cultural studies ideally fit across the whole curriculum.

As for the students, ‘They love it!’ says Michelle. ‘Yay it’s Thursday, Cultural Studies Day!’ they say to her.

Gunai Kurnai Language and Culture studies at Bruthen PS; photos courtesy of Michelle Young





Buxton Primary School

According to Principal Andrew Bagnall, the Taungurung Language program at Buxton Primary School led by Taungurung Linguist Lee Healy, is going really well.  This is a very small school with currently only thirteen students. Every primary year level, from Foundation through to Year 6 is involved in the program.

The language team consists of Lee Healy and Andrew Bagnall, the school principal. So far lessons have focussed on everyday vocabulary to get everyone in the habit of using everyday words and instructions. Students have also spent a great deal of time learning about place - where Taungurung Country is, neighbouring groups, and what animals are found in Taungurung Country. Students created card games based on significant landmarks and the animals that habituate these - the Goulburn River, and the Black Range.

At the moment they are investigating bush foods, fire as a resource for land management and farming, and tools, and have developed a pictorial bush food calendar.