Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kim Beazley Sr and the teaching of Australian indigenous languages

One of the things that I so love about blogging lies in the interactions it creates. These have left me a helpless but not hopeless addict.

Bob Gosford, a blogger who informs me especially but not only about Northern Territory Issues, wrote a piece about teaching in indigenous languages in the NT. I responded with Teaching in indigenous languages setting out my own views. Now Dennis Sligar has responded in an email.

Dennis and I have been friends for many years. He is now Director Education and Training at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (we worked together there when I was CEO), but in a past  life he was Principal Private Secretary to Kim Beazley Snr. He wanted to put put Mr Beazley's contribution on the record. I leave it to Dennis to explain:

Hi Jim

Just caught up with some of your recent blog including on the teaching of aboriginal languages to young Aborigines.

One of your correspondents suggested it started in the 1980s. It started in 1973 when Kim Beazley Snr was Minister for Education. Soon after appointment, the first substantial visit he made was to the NT early in 1973, to review aboriginal education, given that it came under the Commonwealth Minister’s portfolio, and aboriginal affairs had for decades been of personal interest to him. He had many contacts in those communities. I was one of a small number of staff who went with him, along with his department head, Ken Jones. The trip covered Gove/Nhulunbuy, Yirrkala, Hermannsburg, Groote Eylandt, Katherine, Alice, Papunya, Batchelor, and more. Took about 10 days as I recall.

Soon after return he asked the department to draft legislation to provide for the teaching and maintenance of the mother’s language to the young child (as the language of nurture), and to develop written and pictorial materials to capture as much as possible of the stories and histories passed on orally. He decided to seek permission from the Clerk of the House to deliver the opening sentences of the second reading speech in Pijanjatjara, one of the more common languages. I negotiated this with the Clerk, and of course the Hansard reporters were alerted. It was then up to the department to manage the hard part to deliver the program, recruiting teachers, developing materials etc. There were some fine and passionate public servants, both in Canberra and NT, who grappled with this, but whatever was implemented then was no doubt overtaken or languished for the sorts of reasons that we can all imagine.



Dennis is right, I can image. Still, I am glad of the opportunity to put Mr Beazley's role back on the public record.


Greg Dickson said...

Kim Beazley Sr's contribution certianly isn't forgotten. I've recently rediscovered an article called "Critical reflections on the history of bilingual
education in Central Australia" by Robert Hoogenraad, published in 2001 in a book called "Forty years on". The article was written after the last government attack on Bilingual education in the late 90s and open with an wonderful quote from Kim Beazley Sr: "To deny a people an education in their own language where that is possible is to treat them as a conquered people and to deny them respect".

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, Wamut. Dennis will like this.

Anonymous said...

Sad on reading this to see Tom Calma's piece in Unleashed at the moment.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, Neil. I often don't agree with Mr Calma. I will write a follow up piece.