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Shark Bay Traditional Owners Sing in Language Not Heard For Decades

The Aboriginal language of the Malgana people of Shark Bay, Western Australia, is rarely heard these days, but as a group of women and men just proved, many are eager to revive it.


Five people took to the stage on Friday at the Dirk Hartog festival in Denham, to perform a special song called Yandani, which translates as ‘welcome’.

“For us to be singing a song in Malgana language today, I don’t think that would have been done since the early 1900s,” Malgana woman Bianca McNeair said.

“It’s quite a big step for us Malgana community.”

She said the last known fluent speakers of Malgana died in the 1990s but fortunately, there are recordings from the 1970s of elders speaking it.

“In 1978, the year that I was born, there was a recording of one of our elders,” Ms McNeair said.

“The linguist asked him if there were any old Malgana songs and his reply was ‘no, they long gone now’ and I always remembered that, it stuck in my head.”

A photo of Janine Oxenham, who performed a song in Malgana language at the Dirk Hartog festival

Photo: Malgana woman Janine Oxenham said her community is in the midst of bringing back their language. (Supplied: Chris Lewis)

As Malgana enjoys a resurgence, the community is also focusing on dance as a way to give local people a strong sense of identity and ensure their culture continues to grow, said Malgana woman Janine Oxenham.

“One of the things that we are doing with culture is dancing. It is contemporary but it is still here and were still keeping it alive,” Ms Oxenham said.

“We are in the midst of bringing back a lot of our language so we were able to sing a really beautiful welcome song to everyone today.

“I hope we made everyone proud.”

A photo of Malgana woman Pat Oakley, who performed at the opening ceremony of the Dirk Hartog festival.

Photo: Malgana woman Pat Oakley said her culture is preserved through song, dance, story telling and painting. (Supplied: Chris Lewis)

Malgana Songbirds was inspired by a song performed by Noongar singer-songwirter Gina Williams.

Pat Oakley said the Malgana version of the song was a “different interpretation but equally as beautiful”.

“Aboriginal culture has survived for 40,000 years because of ceremony — song, dance story telling, painting — and for us to be able to do this performance today, it’s just an extension of that,” Ms Oakley said.

“That song is a beautiful song inspired by Gina Williams who was a Noongar woman from Perth and she allowed us to translate that to our Malgana language to share with everybody.”

A photo of Malgana woman Ada Fossa

Photo: Malgana woman Ada Fossa said the Dirk Hartog festival helps put Shark Bay on the map. (Supplied: Chris Lewis)

Ada Fossa, a Malgana woman, said she was proud of the Dirk Hartog festival, which this year celebrates 400 years since the explorer became the first European to set foot on WA soil.

“It is pretty big for the town, very big,” Ms Fossa said.

“It’s good as hopefully it will put us on the map; we are already on the map, but a little bit further might help.”

A photo of the crowd at the Dirk Hartog opening ceremony.

Photo: The opening ceremony of the Dirk Hartog festival drew a large crowd in the small coastal town. (Supplied: Chris Lewis)

This article originally appears at:
Article taken from the following publication:
ABC News
Article submitted by:
Chris Lewis and Leah McLennan

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