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Director weekly highlights 8 Apr

Nicholas Evans, Outreach

Date: 8 April 2022

This week you’ll find a real bumper crop of publications and achievements: eighteen fascinating publications; the great news that CoEDL Affiliate Brenda Croft is to be the first First Nations woman academic awarded the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Chair of Australian Studies at Harvard University; upcoming releases (next Monday morning at 11.30) of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ ‘Language Statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’; and much more besides. 

I’m up in far north Queensland at the moment for a profoundly moving set of discussions with members of four generations of the family of Sally Gabori, Juwarnda Mirdidingkingathi, as part of setting up permissions, exhibition design and background interviews for the very exciting one-woman show of 31 of Sally Gabori’s paintings at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, opening 1 July this year. This will be the first one-person show by any Australian artist at this very bold and far-sighted gallery. Her story is an amazing one — she did not start painting until the age of 81 and then poured out a torrent of staggering paintings between then and the age of 91. I first got to know her on Mornington Island, Queensland, when I began my doctoral fieldwork on the Kayardild language in 1982; but, because my adoption as son by Darwin and May Moodoonuthi made her my mother-in-law, I couldn’t talk to her. It was only many years later, with the necessities of interpreting in connection with her burgeoning art career, that the rules relaxed a bit. Anyway, as we go through hundreds of paintings and photographs (some going back to 1902, long before sustained contacts with outsiders) the talk is wheeling off in all sorts of directions. Often it comes back to art, to her mysterious ability (shared with many Central Australian painters) to adopt an aerial view of the land- and seascape, and to people’s uncanny ability to identify specific sites, depicted in the paintings on the highest planes of abstraction. The imminence of the exhibition opening, and the fact that four family members will be there for it, is creating an atmosphere of feverish, telescoped urgency. It has become clear that one of her great-granddaughters will be the right person to speak for the family in Paris, and there is a heightened seriousness to how her grandparents — Sally’s daughters and son-in-law — are taking on the task of preparing her for this, piecing together everything they had gleaned about the meaning of each painting, whether from songs she was singing while painting, or the topographic layout of fish traps as refracted in the colour blocks of the paintings. In case you think this doesn’t sound like it has much to do with language, I promise to come to that theme another time — it is a winding road, but an interesting one. 

There is also a special connection between the last years of this incredible painter, and the story of the Florence Project, as touched upon in Jacki Liddle’s spotlight this week, where she tells us about the ground-breaking use of co-design to improve the communicative ecology of people living with dementia. Around the time CoEDL got started, I lost my dear father, who had seen his ability to express himself get more and more dismembered by dementia over the last ten years of his life. And then, almost at the same time, I was on Mornington Island and visited Sally Gabori — by then no longer painting — in the old people’s home there. The nurse had told me she had seemed unaccountably disturbed over the last two weeks. When I went in to see her, she told me “Thawul, ngada yulaaj, muthaa yarbuda walmuy!” (“Son-in-law, I’m afraid, there are a whole lot of creatures up there (on the roof above her bed)”). When I told that to the nurse, she replied that seeing scary things was a typical reaction to not having the right medication. Since there was nobody around who could speak Kayardild, or nobody translating, she had been trapped in a private agony. Melding together idea of a personalised language bank, which Jacki mentions below, with the needs of speakers of under-resourced languages is still a long way off, but will be a natural further step of the Florence team. 

Have a good fortnight everybody — since next Friday is a public holiday, we’ll be skipping that week, but back the following one.  

Nick Evans


CoEDL Spotlight: Jacki Liddle 

CoEDL CI Anthony Angwin introducing Jacki: 

Jacki Liddle is an integral member of our multi-disciplinary Florence team, which aims to create meaningful technology to support communication for people living with dementia and their care partners. Jacki’s expertise has been critical to engaging with people living with dementia, understanding their lived experience and understanding their needs and preferences relating to communication and technology. Such skills are a key foundation of research with a focus upon participatory design, and will facilitate the potential of our research to ‘make people’s days go better’. Jacki’s calm demeanour and incredible knowledge base has been a tremendous asset to our team.   

CoEDL Research Fellow Jacki Liddle

I have been a Research Fellow and occupational therapist with the Florence Project at the University of Queensland, where we have been creating technology to support communication and participation with people living with dementia and their care partners. The project is reaching the point where we are getting prototypes of aspects of our ecosystem of technology ready for user testing. The ecosystem involves a personalised language bank, or life library, for each user, into which a variety of devices plug, both to apply the information and to gather it (if the user wants this to happen). The range of devices includes connected diaries, safe social networks for photo and information sharing, a photobank to store photos with annotations, music player and moments for collecting and storing memories and thoughts during the day. Aspects of the system including setting it up, looking at the way it stores and applies information, ways of tutoring and curating the information, and devices and interfaces that are part of the system are near readiness for evaluation. User testing will involve people living with dementia, care partners and other stakeholders (including health professionals) providing feedback on functional prototypes and aspects of the ecosystem in terms of usability, acceptability and potential for usage (as well as avenues for personalisation and required changes).  

I am excited by the growth in transdisciplinary and participatory research that we are seeing lately, and the uptake of approaches to working collaboratively with communities and individuals engaged in research.  

One of the outcomes we have been able to achieve within CoEDL was creating resources collaboratively with people living with dementia and their family members as brief introductions for the general public. These were about communication changes and technology. These were created under trying circumstances with lockdowns and travel restrictions, but feature the perspectives and voices of living experience experts. They were designed to impart some of the effort, overwhelm and confusion that can be part of communication for people living with dementia. Important feedback indicated that we also needed to create a lower stimulus version, so the content could be understood by those who find the higher stimulus version too much.    

You can see the videos here under the heading Communication and technology: brief introduction resources.  

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