Chairperson of BLAC (Barngarla Language Advisory Committee)
Having lived in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland most of his life, Stephen Atkinson (43) says that settling in Port Augusta feels like coming back to his Mother Land.
With a mission to reclaim the Barngarla language for the current and future generations, he takes his responsibility as the Chairperson of the Bangarla Language Advisory Committee (BLAC) most seriously.
Inspired by the urge to reconnect with his family, identity, heritage and culture, Stephen has been keen to help his fraternity wherever possible.
It was in 2012, when Stephen met Professor Ghi 'ad Zuckermann and discussed the Barngarla Language Reclamation project. Stephen joined the project and never looked back since then.
Stating that the children are the key in the revival and survival of the Barngarla language, Stephen believes that we can teach them to learn and speak their mother tongue, Barngarla.
While saying so, Stephen also understands that it is not going be an easy task to immerse oneself in the language that has not been spoken for over 50 years. The way to go, according to Stephen, is to come out with innovative teaching tools such as Language Resource Books for children, so that they can use it in their everyday life.
Stephen is proud of the fact that his mother, who used to speak Barngarla as a kid, often attends the Barngarla language workshops. Furthermore, he points out that the reclamation project also helps his Aunty Patty. He believes that expressing oneself in the native tongue is essential in the healing process of the Aboriginal people.
Having gone through the trauma of being part of the stolen generation, Uncle Harry (62) is proud of taking part in the Barngarla language reclamation project.
Although 17/18 languages are spoken in Port Augusta, which is the regional hub for the Aboriginal peoples, Uncle Harry believes that Barngarla are the original custodians of Port Augusta. Uncle Harry feels sad that he did not have an opportunity to hear/speak Barngarla until the age of forty because he was made to believe that he belonged to “Kokatha” mob. He said that it devastated him when he knew that he was oblivious of his own linguistic origin until then. However, he is thrilled that the starting point has been made towards reviving the Barngarla language. The next step is to get our people [Barngarla people] to reclaim the language. Pragmatic Uncle Harry is aware the task is not going to be easy; however, he is optimistic that nothing is impossible when the community is united and determined to achieve the goal.
Uncle Harry is amazed about the Barngarla dictionary. He is excited to know that some of the words that he has been speaking for ages are actually Barngarla words. And, it encourages him to know more about his language. He is of the view that one can even find some Barngarla words in English. Barngarla elders would be able to say those words that are borrowed by the English language.
Knowing that the language is not only a tool of communication but also an essential link with the ancestral knowledge, Uncle Harry insists that reviving a language is like rejuvenating the culture. Although he feels sad that he couldn’t talk about Barngarla language and culture to his sons when they were young, Uncle Harry has been teaching his grandchildren about the Barngarla culture and language. He articulates that it would be a great disservice to Barngarla ancestors, if the Barngarla words are misrepresented. Therefore, he exercises utmost caution while speaking Barngarla.
Stating that age is not a barrier to learn a language, Uncle Harry encourages everyone, particularly the younger generation, to speak Barngarla. He is positive that when everyone begins to communicate in Barngarla, the language will become a “living being” once again.