Broome’s Djukun Nation champions language revival in ambitious project

Cain AndrewsBroome Advertiser
Djukun Nation chief executive Jaala Ozies.
Camera IconDjukun Nation chief executive Jaala Ozies. Credit: Supplied

A Broome language group, the Djukun Nation, has embarked on a significant project aimed at revitalising its ancestral language, Djukun Booroo, amid plans for Reconciliation Week.

Since 2023, the Djukun Nation has dedicated itself to breathing life into the centuries-old Djukun language, which risks fading into silence without intervention.

Drawing on ancient language resource documents from the Daisy Bates collection dating back more than a century, the community has undertaken the ambitious task of creating a Djukun dictionary and starting language classes for children.

Daisy Bates, who was commissioned to compile a history of the Indigenous peoples of WA, and Kitty Notuman, with members of the First Nations community in 1908.
Camera IconDaisy Bates, who was commissioned to compile a history of the Indigenous peoples of WA, and Kitty Notuman, with members of the First Nations community in 1908. Credit: Picasa

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Spearheaded by Djukun Nation chief executive Jaala Ozies, the endeavour represents a heartfelt commitment to preserving cultural heritage and identity.

“We currently have a comprehensive list with around 14,000 words which we’re actually working on at the moment,” she said.

Ms Ozies said there were no fluent speakers of Djukun Booroo today.

“We don’t have any fluent speakers,” she said.

“We lost that link to being able to speak our language due to colonisation and past government policies of forcefully removing Aboriginal children.

“We revived just over 50 words last year, and that was the first success we had with this project.

“It gave our people a lot of hope and instilled a lot of pride in us — so much so that people are now using those words in their daily life and teaching their kids to.

“It’s a small step but it’s a big win for us.”

This self-funded initiative not only seeks to revive a language but also stands as a testament to the resilience and cultural richness of the Djukun people.

Collaborating with linguists specialising in Nyulyulan languages of the Dampier Peninsula has further enriched the project, aiming not only to awaken a sleeping language, but also to reaffirm its place within the broader narrative of Indigenous languages in Australia.

But Ms Ozies said it was not a project that would be completed quickly.

“An experienced linguist who studied Kimberley languages and who also has published many dictionaries told me that you need a minimum of five to 10 years to produce a language dictionary, so we still have a long way to go,” she said.

In an effort to share insights into its journey, the Djukun Nation will host an information session on Thursday May 30 as part of Reconciliation Week.

The event at Broome Lotteries House from 5.30pm, invites people to learn more about the Djukun Nation’s efforts to revitalise the language.

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