Woman’s Cultural Song Project preserves threatened traditional languages
In June 2022 the Woman’s Cultural Song Group gave their debut performance at the Malandarri Festival, 2022 in Borroloola, realising a vision of Malandarri Festival Director, Marlene Timothy to preserve the threatened traditional languages of the Yanyuwa, Marra, Garrwa and Gudanji people.
Artback NT engaged singer-songwriter Dr Shellie Morris, who has Yanyuwa heritage herself, and a deep connection with the people and place from the area, to work with the song woman toward their debut performance. This included a vocal collaboration with the Tiwi Strong Women Choir. The project came to be known as, Arrkula Yinbayarra – Together We Sing
“Singing is a great way to maintain the traditional language. Knowing language means knowing story, culture, history. It all comes back to language. By singing songs, we can engage in the preservation of our culture with even the really little ones.” Marlene Timothy, Malandarri Festival Director
Dr Shellie Morris has spent many years being invited to communities around the world but her relationship with the Borroloola Songwomen is one of the most special, due equally to her journey of discovery and her familial ties to the region as a Yanyuwa woman. She has been working since 2008 with women from the different language groups connected to the Borroloola area in a collaboration to create a women’s cultural song group that celebrates the living languages of the region.
While Dr Morris is Director of the group, Shellie considers herself a student under the strong Songwomen of the languages, dance, and culture, and the two-way learning between all to sit, listen, create and sing has been one of the most rewarding of her career so far.
The Garrwa Language Project
For the Malandarri Festival 2023, we will be working with Hazel Godfrey, a Garrwa lady from Robinson River on a Garrwa language project. Watch this space.
The United Nations General Assembly has declared the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages to draw attention to the critical status of many Indigenous languages across the world and encourage action for their preservation, revitalization and promotion.
All of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are under threat and require ongoing work to be maintained.
Malandarri Festival Director and Cultural Events Officer