With the knowledge that language is the key tool to understanding and celebrating culture, it is natural that language provides the keystone to informing and inspiring creative projects and artistic expression. Our model for the creative revival of Aboriginal languages is a living example of Community Cultural Development practice, strengthening communities as well as language and culture. Our work in the field of creative language revival and cultural revitalisation through the Arts is leading edge and meets a growing need in the community. Creative Language Revival Projects contribute to cultural strengthening, health and well-being, educational opportunities and reconciliation.
VACL makes a significant contribution to the creative and cultural identity of Victoria by increasing the body of Aboriginal language and enhancing the cultural profile of Victoria. We achieve this through close partnerships with creative and cultural organisations such as Banmirra Arts Inc, Ilbijerri Theatre Company, The Wheeler Centre, Museum Victoria, Bunjilaka, Koorie Heritage Trust, Immigration Museum, Aboriginal Community Cooperatives, Melbourne Festival, Kiwa Digital, Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre, Footscray Community Arts Centre , Sistagirl Productions, Reconciliation Victoria and State Library of Victoria drawing attention to the uniqueness of South-eastern Australian Aboriginal culture. Through these collaborations, we have participated in high profile creative events, festivals and programs such as The Light in Winter, Shearwater Festival, White Night, Next Wave, Blak and Bright and Festival of Pacific Arts.
Below are some highlights and examples of the many ways in which language underpins creative expression:
Gunditjmara/Gunai man Corey Theatre is a singer songwriter whose use of language extends him as a musician to be able to sing in traditional language. Corey has attended VACL workshops and is a strong believer in the power of language and its use in music. Corey continues to strengthen his knowledge through a collaborative journey of language revival and musical expression.
To hear some of Corey's music, visit Corey Theatre Music.
The Shearwater Short Tales program featured many musical collaborations including a song-writing and language revival project with self-selected Grades 5 and 6 students from Wonthaggi North Primary School, Kutcha Edwards and Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, which lead to a ten-minute performance at the Shearwater Festival at Philip Island.
Learn more about the Shearwater Short Tales Creative Development Workshops held in 2015.
In addition to the promotion and publication of books in Victorian Aboriginal languages, VACL plays an ongoing role in Victoria's literary programs including holding seminars, workshops, presentations, readings and discussions. These have included a panel discussion at the Wheeler Centre, readings of digital storybook apps as part of the Blak and Bright: The Victorian Indigenous Literary Festival, translation work and reading for National Simultaneous Storytime and presentations on language revival at State Library Victoria.
The upcoming book 'Living Connections' by Lisa Kennedy is a visual narrative with Boonwurrung translations resulting from a partnership with VACL language worker and Boonwurrung Elder Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir. The book features Lisa's exquisite watercolour paintings alongside text in both English and Boonwurrung which details the journey of the Shearwater birds and connection to country.
The award-winning ‘Biyadin: The Shearwater Festival’ is held annually on Phillip Island. The Festival is auspiced by VACL in partnership with Bass Coast Shire Council and the Phillip Island Nature Park and has a strong focus on Aboriginal language revival and cultural regeneration. The Festival is preceded by an Education and Community Engagement Program in which Aboriginal Elders, linguists, artists and environmentalists work with children, teachers and community members to teach language and culture. A range of creative resources are developed from this work that are incorporated into the Festival and, where appropriate, are subsequently used for educational purposes.
VACL also works with leading contemporary arts festivals such as Next Wave Festival where we not only feature in the program of events hosting workshops in collaboration with artists on topics such as traditional cloak making, identity, returning to place and connecting to country through language, but have assisted the festival team in imbedding language in their guides, maps and programs through incorporating Aboriginal place names and locations.
VACL’s creative collaborations include public events such as ‘Tanderrum’, a ceremony performed at the Opening of the Melbourne Festival in Federation Square and the Official Opening of White Night in Melbourne at the Exhibition Building. These projects entailed extensive work with musicians, dancers, Elders and children from Aboriginal communities from the Kulin Nation facilitated by the Ilbijerri Theatre Company and with linguistic and creative leadership provided by VACL staff.
Watch a video of Tanderrum.
The Djirri Djirri Dance Group create dances which are contemporary interpretations of Wurundjeri culture with the essence of traditional dance/ceremony. Djirri Djirri is the Woi wurrung name for the Willy Wagtail. The group have many children who are encouraged to take on leadership roles through the use of language and knowledge exchange in dance creation. The group is led by VACL language worker Mandy Nicholson who has written many songs and chants in language which accompany these dances.
Watch the Djirri Djirri Dance Group perform Heartbeat of the Earth at the Shearwater Festival 2015.
VACL has played a leading role in creating digital language resources to support language learning in both communities and schools. Eighteen apps are now available on the VACL iTunes Store, all of which feature unique artwork created by local Aboriginal artists and in creative workshops with Primary and Secondary students across Victoria. These apps have generated a large interest in Victorian Aboriginal languages on a global platform, receiving wide coverage in the print media and radio and international recognition for Dulaiwurrung Mungka-nj-bulanj (How the Platypus Was Made) which won an award for excellence at the 2015 Digital Children’s Book Fair in Japan. This award led to an invitation to be part of a World Exhibition "Digital Ehon de Hirogaru Sekai Exhibition" at Children's Discovery Center Hachirabo (Tokyo, Shibuya).
To download VACL apps visit our iTunes Store.
Language worker, teacher, craftsman and visual artist and VACL Board Member Brendan Kennedy holds language as a central key to culture and creativity. With support from VACL, Brendan has published a collection of his songs and stories in Tati Tati, Mutti Mutti and Wadi Wadi languages. The publication titled Wangilatha Wangu Kiyawatha is a beautiful collection of Language songs and stories about the land, water, and animals of the Murray River people and Mallee people (Brendan's mother's people). The book is brimming with colour, illustrated with Brendan's digital artworks.
Watch a video of Brendan reading one of the stories from Wangilatha Wangu Kiyawatha.
Ngangu biik: Hear, Understand Country, produced by Wurundjeri visual artist Mandy Nicholson and Elder Aunty Diane Kerr, was displayed on the Signal screens in Northbank, Melbourne from August 14 to 22, 2015. This multi-media experience showcased Wurundjeri's living culture through Elder Aunty Diane Kerr. This journey is depicted through projection imagery and audio of her Mother Tongue, Woiwurrung. This event also celebrated the unveiling of her ceremonial walert-walert (possum skin cloak).
Watch a video documentation of this artwork here.
For thousands of years people from all around the world have looked to the night sky to connect with their creation stories, seasonal changes and navigation through land and the seas. Storytelling and the exchange of traditional cultural stories is a vehicle for cross-cultural understanding and celebration. Uncle Larry Walsh along with Koorie Community, Pacific Island Nations and members from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre put together a collection of galactic journeys which are part of an interactive sculpture 'Living Under the Stars' created by artist Keg De Souza. Imbedded in language, a selection of these stories are narrated by VACL staff Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, Paul Paton and Mandy Nicholson.
Watch a video interpretation of 'Living Under the Stars'.
The 2015 film 'Wawi', Directed by Michael Portway is in Dja Dja Wurrung language with English subtitles. Language worker and previous VACL Board Member Harley Dunolly-Lee worked as a language consultant on the film and assisted with translations in collaboration with Emeritus Professor Barry Blake.
Watch a short extract of Wawi.
Nathan Maynard, a Trawlwoolway Aboriginal playwright and dancer from Tasmania, participated in the Shearwater Short Tales project at the Biyadin Shearwater Festival 2015. He incorporated language into his presentation and showed short films about mutton-birding on Big Dog Island, a practice in which his family had been engaged for many generations. Nathan also facilitated a theatre-making workshop at the Festival based on his play ‘The Season’ which he had presented at ‘Yellamundie’ the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Playwrighting Festival in Sydney. Nathan’s great-grandfather was Mannalaganna, chief of the Troowolway clan and of the whole of the North East Tasmanian indigenous peoples. Nathan was the recipient of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Artist of the Year Award in 2006 and 2013.
Corey Theatre source Corey Theatre Music
Living Connections Lisa Kennedy
Shearwater Festival Terry Melvin
Tanderrum Emma Hutchinson
Djirri Djirri Dance Group Rachel Ramberg
Dulaiwurrung Mungka-nj-bulanj Thornbury Primary School students
Bilgiri Gadini (Flood Waters) Brendan Kennedy
Living Under the Stars installation at Bunjilaka Emma Hutchinson
Wawi film still source Melbourne International Film Festival
Mutton Birding source Nathan Maynard
VACL is proud to announce that the Shearwater Festival has been awarded the Community HART Award for 2015 in the Community Organisation category! The Awards celebrate projects in which local governments and community organisations are Helping Achieve Reconciliation Together.
The projects featured in the 2015 Community HART Awards bring people together through the Arts, through raising awareness and through deep listening. All of the projects contribute to creating new stories of cultural regeneration and healing.
Deep and respectful listening is central to the Shearwater Festival and the Education Program. The Festival, in its fourth year, is a creative, cultural and environmental event which brings communities together to celebrate the return of the shearwaters from their 15,000 kilometre migration. The Shearwater Festival includes a Street Parade, workshops, performances, guided walks and talks to the shearwater rookeries. It involves environmental educators, creative artists, musicians, Indigenous Elders, community members and school children.
The Festival is preceded by a Shearwater Education Program in local schools which includes excursions and visits from artists, musicians, environmentalists and Aboriginal Elders. During the Education Program, students, teachers and community members are supported to create puppets, songs and dances with environmental themes which are featured in the Street Parade.
The theme of the fourth Shearwater Festival in 2015 is ‘Caring for Country’. It will take place on November 21 and 22 on Phillip Island. In 2015, the Festival will feature Shearwater Short Tales, a series of creative collaborations between artists, performers and environmental educators across Gippsland.
Community members will be supported to develop short productions of ten minutes or less in theatre, song, music, dance, poetry, film or mixed media. Shearwater Short Tales will be performed at the Cowes Cultural Centre over the course of the Shearwater Festival weekend.
The Shearwater Festival is auspiced by the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages and sponsored by the Bass Coast Shire in partnership with Phillip Island Nature Park and ABC Gippsland.
To find out more and to become more actively involved, go to
You can see short films about previous Festivals …
Shearwater Festival 2014 https://vimeo.com/116616171
Shearwater Festival 2013 https://vimeo.com/82049856
Shearwater Festival 2012 https://vimeo.com/58521654
On Friday May 30, the Glenelg Shire held its annual Reconciliation Week event. A small group of Year 8 Aboriginal Language and Culture students from Heywood & District Secondary College attended, accompanied by Ms Tashkoff. The event took place at the Portland Civic Hall, in front of the Mayor, Councilor John Northcott, Shire councilors and around 200 invited guests.
The gathering was opened in style by the Winda-Mara dancers, including HDSC's own Jamaine Jones, Braydon Saunders and Taram Frankland. Braydon Saunders and Steph Tashkoff gave the acknowledgement of country in the local Dhauwurd Wurrung language. A representative of each local secondary college was given the opportunity to speak and HDSC's Leyla Quartermaine gave her point of view on what reconciliation actually means and how she feels encouraged to aim high and participate at school. Leyla then pointed out what stills needs to be done in the reconciliation journey. During the lunch break, a video was shown which had been produced by local Koorie youth during film workshops run by the VCA during the last holidays. This humorous short film featured Braydon Saunders and Kiah Morgan (Year 8) and former student Sean (Macca) Bell.
Guest speaker Deborah Cheetham shared her own journey about learning to be strong and confident in her culture. She referred positively to both Leyla's speech and to the Aboriginal Language and Culture program at HDSC. Deborah spoke of how important it is to Aboriginal and Islander young people to have their culture acknowledged and respected within their school environment and she affirmed HDSC for the work they are doing in this regard.
For more information about the Gunditjmara Languages Program at Heywood & District Secondary College and to see more photos click here.
Thanks to Steph Tashkoff for this story and image
During Reconciliation Week 2014, Year 7 students from Heywood & District Secondary College ran Aboriginal Language workshops with 170 Grade 5 & 6 students form all around the district. This was part of the Aboriginal Language & Culture component of the Year 7 integrated program 'Literacy, Literature and Life'. The primary students were split into two large groups, with one group participating in traditional games, led by Jason Saunders of Winda-Mara, and the other engaging in Gunditjmara Languages workshops. After that, the two groups swapped. The Year 7's worked in groups of 3 to prepare a language activity. Each group of Year 7's taught 5 words to each group of around 10 primary students, with a rotation every 5 minutes. By the end of the two sessions each group had presented their workshop 16 times! It was a very busy and productive day with lots of positive comments about students and their activities from primary students and teachers alike.
Workshop topics included: Greetings; Locations; Colours; Family; People; The Body; Actions and Animals.
For more information about the Gunditjmara Languages Program at Heywood & District Secondary College and to see more photos click here.
Thank you to Steph Tashkoff for this story and image
At Heywood and District Secondary College in the state's south-west, the Gunditjmara Languages Program is in its third year and going really well. Year 8 students are offered two lessons per week in 2014, and Year 7 students one lesson per week. Language and local Gunditjmara history is further incorporated into the Year 7 Integrated Studies program to cover the gap in classes and enrich students' Koorie cultural learnings.
"We started in the first lesson talking about kanang wanga - deep listening - and the concept is that you listen 110%, with your ears, your heart and your spirit." Stephanie Tashkoff, Program Coordinator
During Reconciliation Week 2014, Year 7 language students studying a Local Aboriginal History unit during Term 1 ran language workshops and Year 8 students went out on Country to the IPA in Tyrendarra to have a look at eel traps and farming irrigation systems. The unit they were focusing on was all about eels and the deep cultural and economic significance of eels for Victorian Koories.
During Term 3 & 4 students will learn all about human and animal parts of the body, traditional Victorian Koorie body-counting systems, and the significance of land and the environment. In Term 3, Year 8 students commence studying a unit on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. They will also be developing a small possum skin cloak as they discuss the significance of the designs and patterns which were traditionally etched into the cloaks, and compare those with contemporary cloak design. The Year 8's Term 3 unit leads into Term 4 where story-telling is combined with art to enable picture story books to be designed, written and translated into Language by the students themselves.
"For the school community overall, there is a sense of pride in being a school that offers a Koorie Language, and being a school that is developing a sense of This is who we are!" - Steph Tashkoff, Program Coordinator
Towards the end of 2013, students studied Gunditjmara traditional stories and focused on local themes, geographical features and places of significance. Students then wrote a story in English and worked on translating it into Language to produce a series of picture story books. As a result, the school now has a library of just under 40 picture story books which are all in the Gunditjmara Languages, and are looking at how they can transform some of these into animations to use as a wider resource, and work more closely with local primary schools around Gunditjmara Languages and culture.
"The Gunditjmara Languages Program has been extremely beneficial for all students undertaking the course - making connections between the history and culture of where they live, developing understanding and appreciation for local language and cutlure, as well as encouraging their language acquisition and assisting the developmetn of the different neutral pathways that are engaged in language learning.
For Koorie students in particular, further benefits are around developing an enhanced sense of pride and awareness of local language and culture, particularly for students who don't have strong connection to the community." - Steph Tashkoff, Program Coordinator
Images: Year 7 students from Heywood & District Secondary College running Aboriginal Language workshops with Grade 5 & 6 students from all around the district during Reconciliation Week, 2014 (images courtesy of Steph Tashkoff)
For more stories about Heywood students click these links below
Thanks to Steph Tashkoff for this story and images