School student Mia Speed couldn’t find a book written in her traditional Wirangu language to read to her nieces and nephews so she decided to write one herself.
She’s now helping the next generation of kids connect with their culture through a children’s picture story featuring native Australian animals and her Wirangu language.
The Port Lincoln High School Year 11 student has illustrated and written the story about a mother kangaroo Malu who is looking for her joey, Minya marlu.
The story is Mia’s South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) Research project.
Mia, 16, interviewed community members to learn Wirangu and researched author Mem Fox to learn how to write a children’s story as part of the process.
More than 250 languages were thought to exist in Australia in 1788 before colonisation and Census data shows by 2016 there were just 120 spoken with 90 per cent considered threatened.
Bringing language to life
University of Melbourne Indigenous language research language department director Rachel Nordlinger said Mia’s project was a great example of how a language could have a life in the community.
“To have a young student off her own back go and research her language and create material that brings the language back to life in story books is a really fabulous way to do that,” Professor Nordlinger said.
“The more that children have access to their language and hear their language then the more it becomes a part of their lives and that’s how language is continued across the generations.
“It’s so emotional to hear the languages and to know that that knowledge is not only still with the community but is also being passed on to children — it’s incredibly powerful.”
Professor Nordlinger said there were a lot of communities around Australia trying to relearn and revive their languages.
“Indigenous languages are incredibly important to their communities,” she said.
“It has such strong connections to heritage and identity and the ancestors and connection to country.”
Why it matters
Mia said language was part of her Aboriginal identity.
“For me [my Aboriginality is] about language, country, place, traditions, our ancestors, what we’ve been through and the happy and sad moments,” Mia said.
She was proud to see the reactions of her family to not only the language but alsothe fact she had authored and illustrated a picture story.
“My nephews and nieces were my inspiration from the start,” she said.
“Once I showed them the book, they were so happy they were copying me.
“I was really proud and happy to hear them saying the language.”
She didn’t know a lot of Wirangu words before the project.
“It makes me feel like a proud Wirangu woman knowing part of that language,” she said.
“I feel gaining that knowledge at my age is really good because most of my family and mother they don’t really know much of their language.
“I feel like … creating stuff like this for my nieces and nephews is a good starting point for them and it’s giving them an opportunity to learn.”
She hopes to have her story book, which is in digital form, published as a book.
“I’m hoping that it can be one day published so it will be given out to the further community and I hope to create more children’s books in Wirangu language,” she said.
Mia has read her story to several classes at junior primary, primary and secondary school.
She said even non-Aboriginal students enjoyed the language.
“I think spreading that knowledge to the wider community, people in the schools, my school, and primary school I think it would be good for all people to learn this,” she said.