‘Imagine being the last person to know a language spoken for thousands of years.’

22 November 2019

This poignant quote accompanies the State Library of Queensland's thought-provoking exhibition about the survival and revitalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

Held during International Year of Indigenous Languages, the free exhibition is called Spoken: celebrating Queensland language and it is open until 19 April 2020.

There were once more than 125 Queensland languages, now only around 50 of these are in daily use.

Spoken tells the journey of six Queensland communities saving their traditional languages – Wik (Aurukun), Guugu Yimidhirr (Hope Vale), Yuwibara (Mackay), Yugambeh, Kala Lagaw Ya & Miriam Mir (Torres Strait Islands) and Kuungkari, Bidjara, Iningai, Wangkangurru and Yarluyandi (Central West Queensland region).

Rare historical records sit alongside the inspiring work of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who tell their own language stories through art, song and creativity.

The exhibition features James Cook's Endeavour Journal, which is on loan from the National Library of Australia. It holds the first 130 Aboriginal words ever recorded by Europeans in the Guugu Yimidhirr language and is accompanied by the Guugu Yimidhirr perspective of those early interactions with explorers.

Amipuru, 1967, Ephraim Bani, 1791 Margaret Lawrie Collection of Torres Strait Islands Material, courtesy of the State Library of Queensland

A correct globe with the new discoveries, 1774, W. and S. Jones (Firm), London, courtesy of the State Library of Queensland

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