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Welcome to the first languages of Australia

When developing activities around Australia’s first languages, it is vital to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, groups and communities in your region.

In addition to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in your Council, many of the language listings on Gambay: First languages map include links to local Indigenous language centre and programs as points of contact for language advice.

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For those languages where a link is not provided, when getting started it will be useful to have conversations with:

  • Local organisations and groups in your area including your libraries museums and cultural centres.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land councils and community organisations.
  • Schools working with communities to deliver a local language curriculum.
  • Indigenous ranger groups and the people managing national and state parks across your region.

Click here for additional suggestions on ways to connect.

Some ideas to help you get started

Festivals and celebrations

Aboriginal languages can play an important role in any of your local events, festivals and celebrations. They aren’t just for NAIDOC! Hearing performers sing or tell stories or displaying signage in language are all ways to utilise our local language as a focus for our community. Even simply theming a festival or celebration with language opens opportunities for community members to become involved and empowered to educate others about their community’s language.

For example the Milbi Festival, is the Bundaberg community’s first ever large-scale Arts and Cultural festival that has an Indigenous theme and utilises the local language, Taribelang. Milbi refers to the freshwater turtle and is a word that is also used by neighbouring clans who share the waterways. This festival will showcase language, arts, culture, history and inter-connectedness all through the use of one language word.  

Milbi Festival launch

Bundaberg Tourism general manager Katherine Reid, Mayor Jack Dempsey, Gidarjil Development Corporation managing director Kerry Blackman and Cr Judy Peters join Flip the Reading Turtle to announce Milbi Festival.

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Performer at the Quandamooka Festival, supported by Redlands Shire Counil. 2019 Theme: Jandai Wuluara, Ngaliya Wulara – Jandai Lingo, Our Lingo.

Cultural tourism

Amazing opportunities exist for communities to showcase their languages in innovative tourism projects. These are well exemplified by significant community collaborations such as Uluru, K’gari and Minjerribah.

Clan members of the Yolngu people from north eastern Arnhem Land perform the Bunggul traditional dance during the Garma Festival. AAP

Clan members of the Yolngu people from north-eastern Arnhem Land perform the Bunggul traditional dance during the Garma Festival. (AAP)

Language lessons for Council staff

Whether you live in a region where your local community speaks a traditional language, contemporary Aboriginal language or English as their first language, working with your local language custodians to deliver language lessons for Council staff is a powerful way to build engagement across your region. Encouraging your staff to be able to have basic conversations in the language that your traditional owners speak is an important first step in recognising the people and land on which you community is built.

Grant Thompson facilitating a Kriol awareness course for Ngukurr school teachers health and council staff. Ngukurr Language Centre

Grant Thompson facilitating a language awareness course for Ngukurr school teachers and council staff. Ngukurr Language Centre

How libraries can support languages

Did you know that your libraries have a national  Position statement on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander library services and collectionss and National Indigenous Languages Collections Strategy that guides them in ways to support local language communities with appropriate activities to support the collection and access to language materials.  Libraries can offer a range of activities to support and promote languages. This may be through making spaces available for small language classes, research, story telling or actively collecting and promoting language materials. The State Library of Queensland, for example, works with regional libraries to support community members language research efforts across the state. 

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Dianne Ross Kelly and Jenny Warrak from the North Queensland Language Centre participating in the Research Discovery Workshop at the State Library of Queensland.


Bilingual signage is a simple yet effective way to promote the first nation’s language of your area. Signs that display language acknowledge the traditional custodians and provide a public space to share and educate others. By incorporation language into signage you are contributing toward strengthening the language by using it for a practical sense. You might like to use bilingual signs to give direction in office spaces, share stories or recognise the traditional place names of your region.

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Gumgali Track signage. Muurrbay Language Centre

Place naming and dual naming of local sites

Dual naming or renaming local sites with their traditional names has the power to unlock significant cultural stories and history. When your community begins to refer to local places and sites in language, that language name then becomes a normality and any significant stories of history associated with that traditional name are reborn and begin to thrive again.

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Artist Saretta Fielding, who created artwork for the interactive dual naming signage depicting the Hunter River, joins Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes to unveil the first of the eight signs on the Joy Cummings Promenade on Monday.

Ranger programs

Involving your local language within existing ranger programs can be a rewarding experience for people involved in the program and particularly empowering for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rangers. Promoting language within the environmental sector provides us with more opportunity to learn and understand Aboriginal ways of caring for country and gives us insight into traditional sophisticated agricultural and horticultural techniques. It can also provide sustainable employment for Indigenous people in your region around which to develop and grow language services for communities, schools and other council partners.

Birriliburu Aboriginal rangers and scientists on country

Birriliburu Aboriginal rangers and Bush Heritage scientists work together on conservation efforts. (Photo credit: Annette Ruzicka

Local grants for community language programs

By incorporating first language use into your local grants criteria, you are establishing major incentives for community-based projects and building your regions capacity towards their reclamation process. Grants that support first language work will provide a platform for the further use of language and first language education within the community. This is an effective way to encourage community activities and participation in the language sector and to support languages that are listed as  endangered.

Working with your language centres

Language centres maintain strong community links between traditional custodians and members of other languages groups that are supported by the centre. Language centres are the best point of reference for anyone wanting to begin embedding their local languages within their community. Councils are increasingly realising that a strong partnership with your local language centre will have a positive impact your community significantly. For this reason a number of Councils have now committed to providing ongoing funds to support the language centre in thier region.

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The Bininj Kunwok Regional Language Centre is proudly supported by the West Arnhem Regional Council.

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Click here to find the nearest centre to you.

Local mapping of land and sea

The language of the land teaches us who’s country we are on. The more we research our local language we will find particular words that describe parts of our environment, land and waterways. When you come across language that refers to or describes the country and the sea, this gives you a link to the traditional custodians. This rich and valuable form of authentication is known as the language of the land. Learning your local language also supports you to better understand the cultural histories of your region. Your local language will describe the country to you and can be traced out to the boundaries of that land.

Naming buildings, rooms and local sites

Buildings, rooms and local sites are all popular spaces that can effectively promote your regions first languages. By renaming these places you are showcasing the language and providing a space for community to gain interests in their local language. The newly named spaces or buildings when referred to, will see the language name used frequently every day and hold the potential to educate those using the name. Effectively using language to name buildings or places can impact broadly beyond your community, a recent example is the renaming of Fraser Island back to its original Butchulla name ‘K’Gari’.

Language as artwork

What a way to incorporate the use of language! Artworks that are appealing to the eye are also excellent platforms to display language to the already engaged viewer. While viewing the artworks we give people the opportunity to not only understand the meaning behind the art but to also gain a new understanding for the particular language that is used. Incorporating language into your artwork adds new and creative elements that will enhance your work and contribute towards its overall significance. 

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Mural created by Melbourne-based aerosol artist Matt Adnate.

Native garden with traditional names

An innovative way to entertain and educate is to create a native garden in collaboration with local community members. A community garden can give Indigenous families a sense of ownership and pride, and encourage positive, healthy relationships between the Council and the Indigenous community. It can also provide a space for Elders to meet and share stories with children, and learn about bush tucker and the importance of caring for Country.


Community gardeners, Kingswood South Public School, Penrith Valley.

Language liaison officers

Language liaison officers play an integral role in embedding language within your community. They are the ‘go to’ people for consultation regarding the successful implementation of language within community projects. The language liaison officer works in collaboration with Language Centres and council and will have a broad understanding of your community’s perspective around language revival. Language officers will support you to take your first step embedding language further within your community. These positions offer a great opportunity for Council to have a skilled local Aboriginal person on staff to advise on language matters and help bridge communications between Council and constituents.

Welcome to country signage

Firstly, any Welcome to Country signage is a sign of respect for the traditional custodians of your area. Incorporating language into your Welcome to Country sign takes a step away from the generic welcome to country statements and moves towards one that is authentic and more representative of your community. Work with your nearest language centre to develop a statement that is appropriate for your community. The next step is to involve language in your own statement when you speak an acknowledgment of country. This must be personalised and spoken from the heart. Authentic acknowledgment comes in the form of utilisation and implementation of your community’s first language and commitment to its survival.


Gawaymbanha Mulan Wiradjrigu Nguurambanggu–Welcome to Wirdjuri Country. Parkes Shire Council

Greeting people in the local language

Greeting people in the local language is one of the most effective ways to promote your language and provide education supporting it. Language greetings are excellent conversations starters when council officers open meetings and public events, or simply answering the phone. Using a local greeting, with permission of your traditional owners, can help raise cultural awareness and demonstrate that Council is willing to partner with the local community to help them reach their language goals, for the benefit of all constituents.


Employment opportunities

Increasing the frequency of language used within your community comes with practise and consistency. This will open many opportunities for language workers to strengthen the use, education and social value of your area’s first language. As languages are incorporated increasingly into many aspects of community activities, the expertise of skilled language workers will be required to support all sectors of community and local government throughout the processes.

Local histories

When researching the local history of your area you may find resources that include language. This is a very special part of the research, and language words can describe cultural events in more detail than we can with English. Decipher this puzzle with your language workers and you will be pleasantly rewarded. Unlock the hidden truths of your local history through a better understanding of the language of the land. Understanding language in research can give us a perspective on cultural practises, ecological knowledge and sociological relationships. For example, specific words referring to kinship, words that describe relationships with other countrymen, seasonal terms and other environmental details.

Find ways to promote this specific language so others can experience that journey. This is an opportunity to showcase how sophisticated, relevant and specific first languages are.

Reconciliation action plans

Embedding language within your Reconciliation Action Plan is a nice way to begin discussions with the community about the languages of your region, the community’s aspirations for their languages, the benefits of language activities and strength, and how Council can support traditional owner efforts toward their language goals.

 Belmont RAP

City of Belmont, Reconcilation Action Plan

Cultural walks and pathways

Walking paths are engaging ways to learn the languages and as you walk through the environment. Cultural walks and pathways help share an understanding of the country and the way that Aboriginal people have lived for tens of thousands of years. Cultural signage that includes significant use of local language shows a major point of difference between your region and the next. Trails and signs are a resource for the entire community to enjoy, encouraging curiosity and interest from residents and visitors alike.


Nyoongar Trail at Karnup Reserve. City of Rockingham.