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VCE Indigenous Language Students Awaken ‘Sleeping’ Dhudhuroa Tongue


Bryce Carnes is trying to solve a linguistic puzzle. He is attempting to create new words for an extinct northeastern Victorian Indigenous language called Dhudhuroa.


In a bid to revive the ancient tongue, he tries to interweave English with Dhudhuroa, to define features of the modern world – computer, hospital and car.

The language was once spoken by the Dhudhuroa people. Swathes of the community were wiped out by dispossession, smallpox and European massacres in the mid-19th century. It has been “sleeping” since.

Yet Bryce, 17, is among just a handful of people in the country who are starting to utter its phrases.

He is part of a class of three students at Bright P-12 College – the only class in Victoria learning an Indigenous language as part of their VCE.

Bryce draws on recordings of the early 20th century surveyor Robert Hamilton Mathews and a Dhudhuroa dictionary compiled over 1998-2008 to come up with the new words.

Studying outside: Students learning Dhudhuroa are among a handful who speak the language.

Studying outside: Students learning Dhudhuroa are among a handful who speak the language. Photo: David Thorpe

“It can be hard to pronounce the words, and picking up the sentence structure can be difficult … it takes a long time to understand it,” Bryce says.

Bryce’s new words will be pitched to the custodian of the language, the chairman of the Dhudhuroa Native Title Group, the Gary Murray, for approval.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) first piloted the subject, called the Indigenous Languages of Victoria: Revival and Reclamation, at Worawa Aboriginal College in 1994.

Since then, the subject has attracted a maximum number of five students across the state, in any given year.

One reason for the low enrolments may be the considerable dedication required from schools.

Permission must be sought from the custodians of the language, while new words – or chants and games that help teach the language – are to be approved by the same authority.

Bright College teacher Rebecca Crawley, says it was crucial that her students, who were non-Indigenous, understood the reason for these protocols.

“A lot of the custodians of the land would prefer the language be learnt by Aboriginal and Koori people before us, and I totally understand that,” she says.

“If at any stage they decided they didn’t want us to be learning it first … then that would have to be something that we would have to respect.”

Ms Crawley is the driving force behind the language revival at Bright College.

After living in a rural Aboriginal NT community called Wadeye for a few years with her husband Justin, the couple set up a foundation to help small groups of Indigenous kids temporarily move to Bright to study and work.

“It was an idea that came from the elders in the community,” says Ms Crawley. “They wanted the kids to be able to walk in two worlds.”

Since 2010, Bright College students have travelled yearly to Wadeye for a week-long stay, where they go mud crabbing, fishing and weave baskets with the local community.

The kids from both communities formed a close bond, and by 2012, Ms Crawley’s students were demanding to learn an Indigenous language.

The school has kept up the program ever since.

“All of this has really come from the kids,” Ms Crawley says.

Dhudhuroa elder, Mr Murray, says he hoped more mainstream schools would take up Indigenous languages.

“This is about our connection to country, and cultural heritage, and one of the ways to do this is through language.”

Over 1000 Victorian students are learning Indigenous languages at eight Victorian schools.

To date, Aboriginal languages learnt in VCE include Yorta Yorta, Wergaia, Gunnai / Kurnai and Dhudhuroa.

There are about 2000 Dhudhuroa descendants in Australia.

The Indigenous languages exam is on November 2.

The most esoteric languages in VCE this year:

Yiddish (2 students)
Armenian (3 students)
Indigenous Languages of Victoria (3 students)
Ukrainian (5 students)
Swedish (7 students)
Romanian (10 students)
Dutch (10 students)
Indonesian First Language (13 students)
Hungarian (13 students)
Serbian (15 students)

This article originally appears at:
Article taken from the following publication:
The Age
Article submitted by:
Timna Jacks

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