Sharing native treasures as part of A Twist in the Tale

By John Lewis

The musicality of Dinka and Yorta Yorta, or the dynamism of Hazaragi and Visayan will reflect the richness of spoken human language in a live story-telling session in Shepparton next month.

A Twist in the Tale, which forms part of Shepparton Festival’s 2019 program, presents six people from different ethnic groups who will tell a story in their mother tongue, then re-tell the tale in English.

Semi-retired Shepparton orthopaedic surgeon David Chew said the idea came to him when he planned a visit to western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

‘‘Wherever I go I like to learn a little of the native language. It’s nice to be able to greet people in their language, it opens a door,’’ Mr Chew said.

He said an internet search yielded a little-known language of western Arnhem Land — Kunwinjku.

‘‘I learned a few things like hello and goodbye, and when I met some ladies who were sitting down weaving I said hello to them in Kunwinjku — they were so surprised they did a double take,’’ he said.

During his searches he also came across Charles Darwin University endangered language professor Steven Bird who introduced him to the concept of Treasure Language performances in which stories are told in native tongues to English-speaking audiences.

Treasure Language performances have been staged in Darwin, Melbourne and Oakland, California.

Mr Chew said he thought Shepparton would be the perfect place to stage a similar event — the first one in regional Australia.

‘‘The stars were aligned, it’s the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, we have a multicultural community here and a festival with a ‘Storybowl’ theme.’’

He said the Shepparton Festival event would feature six local people speaking in Yorta Yorta, Visayan (Filipino), Hazaragi (Afghani), Dinka (South Sudanese), Tobelorese (Indonesian), Dari, (Afghani) and Nepalese languages.

‘‘The idea is to celebrate the unique sounds of each language, and to show English speakers and also the young people of each culture that this language is still treasured,’’ Mr Chew said.

It was also an opportunity to de-sensitise English speakers to the sounds of different languages, he said.

‘‘Some people can feel threatened if they hear people speaking a different language — they don’t know what they are saying.’’

Mr Chew said for new migrants, the first thought was often to tell a refugee story, but he added this would be different.

‘‘This is a chance to tell a happy story, perhaps about their mother’s cooking, or a childhood story in their own language — with a smile on their face,’’ he said.

He said the session would be moderated by a master of ceremonies, with perhaps some film accompaniment, and it would spotlight each speaker and the uniqueness of their language.

A Twist in the Tale — Treasure Language Storytelling takes place at the Black Box Theatre, 17 Wheeler St, on Saturday, March 16, from 6pm to 8.30pm.

Tickets are $15 or $10 concession. To book, go to www.shepparton tickets.com.au/event/8653