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How many languages can you speak?

I know some words in Spanish and French, a couple of German, Scots Gaelic (thank you “Outlander”) and of course, ‘lekker’, ‘boerewors’ and ‘brae’. Our son’s school has this year changed their house system and named the houses after the six Noongar seasons; Birak, Bunuru, Djeran, Makuru, Djilba and Kambarang, so there’s six Noongar words I know. I’m so impressed with missionaries and adventurers that move to other countries and learn the language of their new home.

I often wonder why *we* didn’t. Why didn’t the English, upon arriving on Australian shores, attempt to learn the local languages? This thought has been brewing in me for a few years now.

Earlier this August, I learned a few more Noongar words. I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the “Danjoo Koorliny Walking Together” Social Impact Summit 2020. I say ‘blessed’ because it really was a blessing; due to numbers being limited by Level 4 COVID19 restrictions I was one of only a handful of non-Indigenous Australians invited to attend in person. The Summit came at the end of a week of Social Impact Festival and was held over Friday evening and all-day Saturday the 7th & 8th of August, at the UWA Business School.

Danjoo Koorliny’ means ‘going together to the future’, or ‘walking together’ in Noongar language.

In nine years, it will be the 200th anniversary of the white settlement of Perth. The first Danjoo Koorliny Social Impact Festival was held in Makuru last year and set out the Elders’ vision for the commemoration of the bicentennial event. (Hint: celebrating 200 years of white settlement might not be such a happy occasion for our Noongar people).

At this second Danjoo Koorliny, Elders and Indigenous leaders of the Noongar Nation of spoke of their progress across portfolios including Children & Families, Environment & the health of our Waterways, Housing & Homelessness, Commerce & Industry, Art & Culture, Justice & Social Services, Healthcare, Leadership & Women’s Issues. It was by turns exciting and heartbreaking, but every speaker was erudite, engaging and entertaining.

The evening ended with a hauntingly beautiful lantern parade of handmade puppets in the form of important local marsupials, birds, amphibians and stars floating through the peppermint and gum trees outside the Business School building.

On the Saturday, the full day of events started with Noongar Elders of the City of Perth speaking about the amazing leaps forward by the City council, due to their inclusion in council bodies. We should soon notice point-of-interest signage around Perth changing to show both the English and Noongar names and giving a Noongar history of the site. Portraits of the Elders have been painted and will hang in Council House. The groups the Elders’ sit on meet in a seminar room named after a Noongar man. As one Elder pointed out, all these things would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago. Apparently – it seemed to be common knowledge amongst the Noongar delegates – only a few Lord Mayors’ ago, at a time I was catching buses to and from work outside of Council House, Aboriginal people were not welcome at Council House in the city[1]. White West Australians – oblivious. Or maybe that’s just me?

I’m old enough to remember the sesquicentennial in 1979. To celebrate Foundation Day (now WA Day) at our Primary school, we all dressed up as settlers in 19th-century garb. Here’s the kicker: some of the Noongar people at the Summit had to, as well.

Knowing all these things and more; having lived these things, the grace, gentleness and humour displayed by the leaders of the Danjoo Koorliny project was overwhelming.

During the “yarning circles” group discussion time the thing that leapt out at us, as a group of non-indigenous West Australians, was “Listen”. Listen to Aboriginal people. Listen to the Elders. Don’t try to rush and fix things! Just listen.

This idea was underscored during the afternoon sessions of the seminar, when the word “dadirri” was introduced.

dadirri – deep & meaningful listening; to listen for understanding, not responding”

We have so much to learn from our Noongar people, about how to live on and care for our beautiful corner of Australia.

Please listen.

And maybe try to learn their language?

(I encourage you to Google and read more about the Danjoo Koorliny Walking Together Social Impact Project and Festival: designed and led by Aboriginal leaders to help us all walk together towards 2029 (200 years of colonisation in Perth) and beyond.)


By Cate Jones

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