NAIDOC WEEK was celebrated in June all over Australia for the rich cultural heritage that indigenous mainland and islander people have given to our way of life in Australia.

For instance, powerful stories about the Rainbow Serpent have been passed down from generation to generation. The serpent story is found all over the continent although its details vary according to place. Stories about the Dreamtime from monsoonal areas depict the sun, the serpent and the wind interacting, whereas stories from the Central Desert describe a less dramatic origin. The snake is a symbol of a benevolent protector of its people and as an enforcer of cultural law. The Rainbow Serpent is closely linked to the land, water, society and fertility. The Rainbow Serpent is often involved in ritual transitions from adolescence to adulthood for young men, in symbolically swallowing them before vomiting them up later.

As this more earth-bound ‘gutti’ snake’s belly demonstrates …

A major role of the Rainbow Serpent is as creator, bringing life and land formations to empty space.

We are in the fortunate position in Australia of having many indigenous words incorporated into our very understanding of the earth, in the form of place names.

This is David Kelly’s take on NAIDOC’s 2017 theme: Language Matters

Understanding the origin of languages and perfecting your own language gives you a sense of belonging. You pick up the tones, nuances and slang from those around you, including your family.

Do you get anything from ancestors? Well, I went to the UK to meet my relatives and to travel across England. I felt comfortable with various place names such as the Tickled Trout on the River Ribble, The Midlands and The Pennines. All these places were not known to me but the language rolled off my tongue.

Indigenous places and names have an effect once you know their meanings: Wollongong, associated with the sea; Thirroul, a valley of cabbage tree palms; the Tharawal people south of Sydney’s harbour stretching to the Southern Highlands and the Illawarra; the Wiradjuri language spoken by thousands of people from Albury to Young to Hay or Lithgow; or Woolloongabba in Brisbane, now an international cricket landmark, which originally meant ‘whirling waters’ or ‘fight talk place’. These indigenous place names roll off my tongue and feel as descriptive as did the English names to me.

To live and work in Australia gives us a unique opportunity to reach back to our country’s indigenous ancestors to keep alive these languages which are essential to all who call this place home.

Credit video Sharon Dean, text David Kelly & Christine Williams (with Wikipedia).

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