Languages are both an expression of culture and the vehicle through which culture is kept alive. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the ability to speak or use words and phrases of Indigenous languages is a critical factor in cultural identity and individual and community wellbeing’ Indigenous Language Support” (ILS).

The SharingStories Language Lightbox iOS Application build was funded by the Ministry of the Arts’ Indigenous Language Support (ILS) Initiative and is a login, modular based, audio-visual language repository developed and implemented with the Paakantji community of NSW but designed for scalability and adaptation by other communities. The Language Lightbox is available to communities for use in recording, documenting and holding their own languages and is implemented independently, or as part of the SharingStories Digital Storytelling Program.

The Application also holds information produced by communities regarding the reach of their particular language, dialects and geography.  Spoken language words can additionally be linked to iBook program outcomes facilitating a click through phonetic guide. The tool also includes functionality which allows for links to relevant interactive cultural material relating to language words. The tool can be shared and populated across satellite communities connected to the Language and Culture hubs with whom we work. We are currently working with the Paakantji community from Wilcannia in NSW, all the way across to Mildura in Victoria, supporting community connection and shared creative and cultural maintenance practices in the context of the Paakantji language.

A language and culture excursion to Lake Woytchugga during implementation of the SSF Language Program at Wilcannia Central School. The SSF Language App has been designed so language speakers are able to engage young language learners in creating photographs and language recordings of the associated word in both Language and English whilst offline/on Country.

Walpa Thompson on Country teaching language on Country utilising the App, prior to excursion students have had a preparatory class to discuss the things they may see and the words they are looking to record and what category they will load the words under.  On returning to school Warlpa will run a lesson based on the words recorded and knowledge transferred.

Assistant language teacher Aaron Williams working with the Language Lightbox in the classroom at Wilcannia Central School. After the excursion students return to the classroom where they write the words associated with the photographs and recordings they’ve made on Country into the app, in both language and English.

The images then feature as flip cards in designated categories and appear with the associated word in both spoken and written form. This implementation program was generously supported by the Indigenous Language Support (ILS) Initiative and McLean Foundation.

Selected elements of language material will be mapped to the Australian curriculum and made available in educational spaces for the purpose of increasing knowledge, awareness and respect amongst the broader community regarding the importance and, in many instances the fragility, of Indigenous languages in Australia.

The long term objective of the SharingStories Language Program is to support maintenance and revival of Indigenous languages by creating, in collaboration with local communities, a range of open source digital tools and online environments which facilitate documentation and dissemination of Indigenous languages – increasing the use of Indigenous language in a range of fields. The process of populating the Language Lightbox relies on intergenerational transmission of linguistic and cultural knowledge building stronger, more cohesive communities and strengthening capacity. Communites take ownership of the creation and continued evolution of the content, populating and enriching community based audio visual dictionaries in ongoing ways.

This tool was built for SharingStories by The Project Factory, an award winning and innovative digital production company.

Current Language Tool Interface ( Paakantji)

The entire project has been developed and built in response to community initiatives and directives. It has been led by NSW Aboriginal Language Advisory Board member, Paakantji speaker and Regional Language and Cultural Officer Murray Butcher and Indigenous linguist Craig Ashby with the support of the Paakantji Language Circle, established for the purpose of ensuring language maintenance. Language Lightbox functionality has been determined by the community during workshops and prototype trials and has been designed for the express purpose of community ownership and control. During the one week trial implementation of the tool, the wider community was involved through public forums, field trips with local young people and Elders, radio talk back, and use of the Save The Children Australia mobile recording studio.

The development of these digital tools has been endorsed by the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) Language Advisory Council led by Uncle Stan Grant. The support of Murray Butcher and Craig Ashby, who both live and work in Wilcannia, and have been committed to the realisation of this project, is a key factor in ensuring its success and sustainability.

Uncle Murray Butcher with members of the Kurnu Paakantji Landcare & Cultural Management Group Inc discussing additional functionality required for the Language Tool.

Paakantji language is listed on UNESCO’s Critically Endangered Language List (less than 5 speakers remaining). The Language Lightbox will make a significant contribution to community capacity to record and hold Paakantji language and aspects of the cultural knowledge held within it. Wilcannia Language and Cultural Centre through which the SharingStories Program runs,  services communities in Menindee, Bourke, Mildura, Broken Hill and Coomealla.

Uncle Murray working with young members of Wilcannia community to populate the Language Tool with photographs and audio recordings of language words.