Learning Warlpiri

Learning Warlpiri

Thursday, 17 September 2015  | Colin - Senior School Teacher
Several teachers were sitting around a camp-fire at Yuendumu one night long, long ago. We were recapping a busy, exhausting, exciting day on what seemed like an altogether different planet from the one we lived on. It was our first ever weekend on an Aboriginal settlement. Suddenly a woman came out of the shadows to ask who we were, and to suggest that if we were serious about Aboriginal Studies, we should undertake a language study at MECS, the target language being Warlpiri of course, the language of that town. So began a new chapter in our school history, a new departure in my teaching career…

That we decided to launch out into language study says something about the MECS philosophy in those days. Learning should be ‘hands on’, not purely academic. Culture cannot be understood without at least a glimpse of language, language which shapes and is shaped by the culture. Wendy, the woman mentioned above, came to MECS during her long-service leave to give me my first Warlpiri lessons, and the rest is history, as they say.

My life has been so enriched by the chance to visit Warlpiri culture. The welcoming love and tolerance of those people and the patient, kind grace of MECS has allowed teaching and learning about the people of this land to take place over 30 years. I am completely humbled that I have been privileged to take part in the adventure.

Recently the ‘letters’ pages of the Age have contained more than one contribution from people bemoaning the fact that they learned ‘nothing’ of the Aboriginal story of this wonderful country. Any student who has completed Year 10 at MECS since that Yuendumu night cannot have that complaint.

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