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Patji-Dawes 2021: Sharon Gregory

Patji-Dawes

Date: 20 May 2021

Noongar woman Sharon Gregory received a 2021 Patji-Dawes Award for community outreach and teaching. She was nominated by the Noongar language group Walyalap Waangkaniny, a community of students Sharon has met with every Saturday morning in Fremantle, WA in since 2012.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have been selected to receive the Patji-Dawes award and I thank my Noongar language group Walyalap Waangkaniny for sharing my journey of my love for Noongar language,” Sharon said.

Sharon’s efforts to learn, revitalise and share Noongar language and culture have been prolific. Since receiving her teaching qualifications in 2002, Sharon has assisted several initiatives in the community. She currently teaches at least seven community language courses per week and supports a two-year Aboriginal Language Training course.

“From her own interest and desire to learn Noongar 20 years ago, she has gone on to inspire many to do the same,” her nominators in Walyalap Waangkaniny say. “She has sparked a ripple effect and created a pathway for Noongar people to learn, teach, create and lead.”

Sharon’s Saturday morning sessions with the Walyalap Waangkaniny language group are well-loved, especially for their ‘language circles’ — a steadfast element of every Saturday class that involves all students of all levels speaking entirely in Noongar for at least half an hour.

Sharon leads her classes collaboratively. “There is a common understanding that we are sharers and co-learners of language, Sharon included,” her nominators say.

This deep commitment to community outreach and learning is evident throughout Sharon’s process. The content of each course she teaches is shaped to respond to a need in the community. As a result, the work of Sharon and her students can be found across Western Australia: in translations and recordings of football club songs, in the Western Australian Museum and in educational resources used across the state.

“Her teaching opened my eyes to the incredible amount of Noongar I have been surrounded by all my life,” Kate Reitsentstein, a Walyalap Waangkaniny student, commented. “Suburb, park and street names. Before they were just words — now they have meaning.”

In addition to her teaching efforts, Sharon has compiled a Noongar Language Dictionary, which she regularly updates and republishes as her knowledge of Noongar continues to grow. The dictionary contains a sketch grammar and is the product of collaboration and consultation with Noongar Elders, linguists and educators.

“Learning my ancestral language has been transformative in feeling connected to my community and my Country,” says Dr Cass Lynch. Cass began learning Noongar with Sharon in 2017 and now helps with organising language classes and teaching new students. “I’ve been able to connect with other people through sharing my knowledge of language, and I have seen first-hand how learning language fills people’s spirits.”

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Three recipients were honoured in the 2021 Patji-Dawes Langauge Teaching Awards. The other 2021 recipients are Maria Lo Presti in the Individual category and the staff of the Graduate Certificate of Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage at Charles Sturt University in the Group category. For information on past years, click here.

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