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NoongarPedia Created as First Wikipedia Site in Aboriginal Language

In Noongar country, in the south-west of Western Australia, researchers are building the first Wikipedia site in an Aboriginal Australian language.

The Noongar people spoke their language for thousands of years — until, last century, it started to fade.

Now, Aboriginal languages and knowledge are being revived, celebrated and made a part of the Australian curriculum.

The NoongarPedia project is still in its “incubator” phase, but already resembles the main English Wikipedia page.

Noongar woman Ingrid Cumming, a research associate working on the project, says one difference is that it is bilingual.

“We’re trying to work with Wikimedia Australia to keep the same kind of interface but also make it culturally appropriate,” she said.

Colourful posters.

Noongar words cover the walls of a classroom in Bunbury. ABC South West: Meghan Woods

While NoongarPedia is the first Australian Aboriginal language site on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia comes in 295 different languages across the world.

“In the first part of the project we were looking at other examples of Indigenous cultures globally that have tried to do a similar thing,” Ms Cumming said.

“A lot of those were actually all in language. We found that that was kind of restrictive, especially with the Noongar language.”

Ms Cumming says the bilingual capacity of the page is important.

Even though more people are learning and speaking Noongar, it is not always conversational and is often combined with English.

Then there are the different dialects: town dialects, family dialects, and different meanings for the same words. The word Noongar itself is spelt in many different ways.

“That’s just the beauty of the South West and Noongar country, the diversity of Noongars,” Ms Cumming said.

Online resource to support classroom learning

At Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Bunbury, WA, the classroom walls are covered with colourful pictures of people and animals with words like “kaya” and “mooditj”.

While the students recite the words with confidence and pride, there are challenges in trying to teach the language to the next generation.

“Kids when they went to school weren’t allowed to speak their language, so they’ve lost it,” said Noongar language teacher Kim Stanley.

“Our cleaner here at the school was told off when she went to school speaking it. They got put off doing it.”

Brightly painted rocks.

Rocks painted by children from the Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Bunbury. ABC South West: Meghan Woods

Ms Stanley says she has had to go back to the beginning rather than build on existing knowledge.

“You’re sort of learning yourself and you haven’t got a lot of parents at home that have any background knowledge, only from their grandparents,” she said.

Soon, NoongarPedia will provide online support for these language teaching efforts.

The Noongar community will play a major role in creating and advising the page, but Ms Cumming said the page is for everyone.

She said that included “our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters who want to learn more about the Noongar people, Noongar language and Noongar culture”.

“I think too with the change in the national curriculum, schools and educators will find this is a fantastic learning resource,” she said.

Ultimate aim to capture all Indigenous languages

Wikimedia Australia president Gideon Digby agrees that the project should be designed to educate everyone.

“The basic principle of Wikipedia is to share the sum of all knowledge,” he said.


“I’ve grown up in Western Australia and realised that we can’t share the sum of all knowledge until we actually collect and collate all knowledge.

“When you’re talking about the south-west of Western Australia, that includes Noongar knowledge and Noongar culture.”

As for the other Australian Aboriginal languages, Wikimedia hopes to create pages for them as well … eventually.

“We are working on that,” Mr Digby said.

“We are looking at starting more languages up in Darwin and Brisbane during 2017 and then we’ll work from there.

“There are 300-odd Indigenous languages across Australia and yes, the ultimate aim would be to capture all 300 Indigenous languages with a full language encyclopedia for themselves.”

The ABC acknowledges that the word “Noongar” is spelt many different ways. Because the Noongarpedia project uses the “Noongar” spelling, we have also used that spelling in this instance.


This article originally appears at:
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ABC News
Article submitted by:
Meghan Woods for Awaye!

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