Exhibition hopes to revive Wurundjeri language

A Djirri Djirri dance performance. Picture: Tiffany Garvey

By Jed Lanyon

Yarra Ranges Regional Museum will be host to dhumba njan dhumba njarr, an exhibition to celebrate the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages from 11 May.

The dhumba-njan dhumba-njarr exhibition will feature archival recordings, a special digital interactive cultural map and objects including a possum skin football that will provide a rare insight into the traditional language of the Yarra Ranges.

dhumba-njan dhumba-njarr means speak-I speak-you in Woiwurrung, the language of the Wurundjeri of south central Victoria.

The survival and significance of this language will be celebrated in the exhibition curated by Brooke Wandin.

Ms Wandin is from the Woiwurrung speaking Wurundjeri-wilam clan. Her family have been living in the area we now know as the Yarra Ranges for countless generations.

“My ancestors used language in the ancient past, and people in my community still use it today,” she said.

In Australia, of the estimated original 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, only around 120 are still spoken. Of these approximately 90 per cent are endangered.

“For many years our language has been sleeping. The land and our ancestors are waiting patiently to hear our languages again,” said Ms Wandin.

“In 2019, many languages are endangered, under threat and many have been lost.

“What’s amazing is that some precious threads that remain can be woven, stitched and pieced back together. And that is occurring across Australia and in Victoria,” Ms Wandin said.

“By learning Woiwurrung, we the Wurrendjeri can create dialogue about ourselves in our mother tongue.

“Having language to describe yourself, your family, where you’re from, where you fit in, who your mob is, who you are related, it’s actually really powerful,” Ms Wandin said.

dhumba-njan dhumba-njarr is a significant exploration of the survival and practice of Woiwurrung language and has been conceptualised and curated at Yarra Ranges Regional Museum.

It provides a unique opportunity to understand the significance of Woiwurrung to the traditional custodians of the Yarra Ranges.

“It is important for all residents of the Yarra Ranges and beyond to understand that they are living and working on Woiwurrung speaking land,” Ms Wandin said.