Children’s book in Yorta Yorta

August 11, 2017

Aunty Sharon Atkinson and co-writer Lyn Loger at the launch of the book on Wednesday.

A language almost lost in time has been revived for children of the region, through the publication of an illustrated storybook.

Shepparton Aboriginal elder Sharon Atkinson wrote Po-Bonk-l bunyma Bapalwa (Po-Bonk Creates a Flood) with a view to educating a new generation about the language connected to the local Yorta Yorta people — and how it was almost lost.

The book was launched by Atkinson, along with co-writers Lyn Loger and Philippa Schapper, at Nathalia’s Grain Store on Wednesday, and was inspired by the Aboriginal Dreamtime story about Tiddalik the frog.

Aunty Sharon began work in 1997 to inject the Yorta Yorta language back onto the agenda through the publication of various books, and is now working on a dictionary with old and new language.

The current project, Aunty Sharon said, was an attempt to revitalise the language and encourage local children to be more aware of the language and its history.

Funding from Moira Shire Council has enabled 100 books to be published and distributed throughout local schools, libraries and indigenous organisations.

‘‘It’s really good for (children) to know that indigenous people do have a language of their own,’’ Aunty Sharon said.

‘‘With these stories we launched today, there’s a lot of different context of language, and how it contributed to the environment and landscape and also to how we live today.’’

Aunty Sharon said she had been in talks with a number of primary and secondary schools about implementing language into the curriculum, and some were already studying it at a very low level.

She said she began to learn the language only when starting her project two decades ago, after her mother and grandmother were forced to give up the culture.

‘‘The language was a part of the Stolen Generation era, and back in the day of colonisation they were forbidden to speak the language, and that’s a lot of the reason why people were afraid to speak it,’’ she said.

‘‘Language was kept by people who would speak it indoors or confidentially because they were afraid of the consequences.’’

Since her revitalisation project, Aunty Sharon said an astounding amount of interest in the language had surfaced, particularly within the indigenous community.

‘‘There are some elders who feel sad about the loss of the language over time, but we now have quite a lot of speakers in the community,’’ she said.

‘‘The younger generation is owning it and saying it proudly and loudly, and they have taken to it quickly.’’

Po-Bonk Creates a Flood will be available in Yorta Yorta and English with an audio CD as well, and artwork for the book comes from photos taken during Nathalia’s Bardi Grub festival held in March.

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