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Nandiri'ba'nya – exhibition shows Language and Country through Indigenous eyes

Indigenous Languages, IYIL, Shape, Technology

Date: 18 July 2019

The work of Centre researchers features prominently in a new exhibition celebrating the International Year of Indigenous Languages opening in Sydney next month.

Nandiri'ba'nya (“We will all see/experience” in NSW language D'harawal) shines a spotlight on current language projects by members of First Peoples communities and researchers from around Australia. It introduces visitors to traditional spoken, sign and song languages through objects, documents and interactive multimedia, as well as presenting ongoing efforts to reawaken ‘sleeping’ languages of our region.

Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis demonstrates sand storytelling tradition

Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis demonstrates the sand storytelling tradition tjinytjatjunku tjuma.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Centre affiliate Rachel Hendery and has been curated jointly by Western Sydney University and the University of Technology Sydney. Rachel says she started to put the exhibition together a couple of years ago after being approached by various people about a need for greater public awareness and understanding in Australia of First Peoples' languages.

“One thing we have made an effort to do in this exhibition is to highlight the voices of First Peoples who have written about the themes we are focussing on,” says Rachel. “One of the things I've enjoyed about discussing language with D'harawal and Darug language knowledge holders is seeing how the languages remain living, changing things. The pronunciations and some of the semantics are probably rather different from what they were at the time of invasion, but that would have been the case even if there hadn't been breaks in transmission.”

Some of those voices are of Centre researchers like Elizabeth Marrkilyi Ellis, who along with Inge Kral and Jennifer Green have recorded Western Desert Verbal Arts; Anjilkurri Rhonda Radley, who is researching the use of gesture in Gathang; and the Gurindji people, whose award-winning Takataka sign language project was facilitated by Cassandra Algy, Jennifer Green and Felicity Meakins.

The highlight of the show is a new immersive virtual reality experience developed by Rachel and her collegues – Barrawao (‘to fly or make haste’ in D'harawal) – where the viewer directs a self-guided virtual tour across nura (Country) to hear traditional languages spoken, while simultaneously gaining insight into the connection between Language and the nura of the Sydney region.

Tony Woodbury and Rachel Hendery at CoEDLFest 2019

Dr Rachel Hendery instructs Professor Tony Woodbury on one of her VR experiences at CoEDLFest 2019.

“I have been fortunate to collaborate with the amazing artists and designers Danièle Hromek (Badawang/Yuin) and Shannon Foster (D'harawal), who have guided me and brought in the deep understanding of their own cultures and the languages, including Darug, Dhurga and D'harawal,” Rachel says. “I wish to thank Andrew Burrell, whose artistic vision and understanding of new media has brought it all to life. It's also meant a lot to me to get to know the Centre researchers and projects involved in the exhibition so much better.”

Given the library setting, the curators have made available broader reading lists on each exhibition topic, with QR codes that will go to a collection of relevant scholarly works in Trove. (Suggestions welcome!)

The Nandiri'ba'nya: Language and Country exhibition is sponsored by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. It starts in the foyer of the UTS Library from Monday 5th August and you are invited to the official opening on 14 August. For more details, visit the website.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University