A group of computer animators is working with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory to preserve language and heritage through a combination of ancient wisdom and hi-tech know-how. 


17 June 2019

Image courtesy of Monash Country Lines Archive

During the International Year of Indigenous Languages this unique project is being led by Dr John Bradley, of the Monash University Indigenous Centre, who has worked alongside communities in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria for more than 30 years. 

In that time he has developed a close bond with the Yanyuwa people, and is now among a tiny minority of people who speak Yanyuwa fluently. Less than 40 years ago there were 260 speakers of Yanyuwa and now there are only four.

‘To watch a language die is one of the saddest things I've ever experienced,’ John said. ‘Because incredibly intimate knowledge about Australia just disappears and if you haven't reclaimed it, then it's gone forever. It is silenced.

‘The vast and critical knowledge that Indigenous people have gained in their country for millennia is encoded in their language. In those languages are the treasures, in those languages are the details that we might otherwise miss out on. They provide a deep well of environmental and social knowledge.’ 

John has teamed with animators from the Monash Faculty of Information Technology to produce a series of traditional dreaming stories using 3D computer animation.

The team is guided by the commuinty in selecting and bringing to life the stories, which are narrated in Yanyuwa and form a living cultural archive. 

Known as the Monash Country Lines Archive, this use of media to capture Australian heritage has been warmly welcomed by the Yanyuwa, and is helping bridge a generational divide that is crucial to the preservation of their language, song and storytelling.

‘Through the animations the older generation are finding a space to actually teach young people who are captivated by a technology that they are so used to, but now the technology is actually speaking about something that belongs to them, and that's been the critical point.’

Aided by a gift from the Alan and Elizabeth Finkel Foundation, John and his colleagues are working to make their animation technology available to indigenous communities across Australia and overseas. 

"In 10 years I would like to have many, many more animations done of as many languages as possible in Australia, and know that they are not only serving a purpose in the Indigenous community to whom the knowledge belongs, but that we find avenues to bring them out into the wider Australian community and see them as serious narratives about this country that we all call home."

There have been 17 animations produced since the project began in 2011 and over the next three years another 30 will be available. Here is one of the fantastic animations which is told in the form of classic Yanyuwa Dreaming narration and details the journey of the Groper (a-Kuridi) around South West Island, in the Northern Territory.

This story was submitted via our easy to submit Sharing stories IY2019 form. If you would like to share your story about the work you or your organisation are doing to protect, preserve and promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages let us know the details.

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