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Permission to speak

Maree Dellora
Ms Maree Dellora is KLA Manager, LOTE, at the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority

A new subject in the Victorian Certificate of Education: Indigenous Languages of Victoria: Revival and Reclamation

In October 2003, the Victorian Qualifications Authority (VQA) and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) accredited the first study of Victorian Indigenous languages in the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE). The Indigenous Languages of Victoria: Revival and Reclamation study will incorporate Victorian Indigenous languages within the senior secondary curriculum.

The accreditation follows a long period of curriculum development and community consultation and approval, as well as 10 years of piloting under the Australian Indigenous Languages Framework.

The development process

For over two years, a Reference Group worked in partnership with the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc (VAEAI), the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) and the Koorie Education Strategy Team (KEST) of the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DE&T) to develop the curriculum and assessment framework.

The study's development has also been informed by a thorough review of interstate syllabus documents relating to Indigenous languages, particularly those of New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. It should be noted, however, that there is no precedent for a study of this kind in the senior secondary curriculum in Australia.

The study was trialled at Worawa College (1993-2001). It also drew upon

  • The expertise of classroom teacher Aretha Briggs and Monash University linguist Dr Heather Bowe
  • The Australia's Indigenous Languages Framework (SSABSA 1996)
  • VCAA accreditation principles and guidelines
  • Seminars and briefings on the reclamation of Kaurna (an Adelaide language conducted by Dr Rob Amery of the Unaipon Centre, University of South Australia
  • The Policies and Protocols of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages Inc. and the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc.
Over 30 languages have been identified as existing in Victoria. The spoken language model used in some states was not suitable for Victoria's Indigenous communities, as the majority of Victorian languages are no longer spoken as primary languages.

The response of Victoria's Indigenous people

When the draft curriculum was ready for consultation, extended meetings were conducted at the local level with all Victorian Indigenous Communities as well as the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for Languages (FATSIL). Consultation meetings were held in 16 venues across Victoria, to ensure the participation of Indigenous family groups in ongoing reclamation and that all the requisite protocols would be observed when dealing with the languages.

For many Koorie Elders, 'handing over' their languages without any control to the education system was a very real fear. Too many remember being forbidden to talk in their own language, a ban imposed by government legislation. In this case, however, the community response was overwhelmingly positive. Many Elders noted the importance of their languages within their culture, and their role in maintaining cultural continuity.

One Elder summarised thus:
Not even since I was born our language was stifled and when they done that it took away our identity. Language and self and kinship belonging. Yet we are invited to listen to all the newcomers language and it makes me feel shrivelled inside because part of me is missing until once again I hear the sweet sound of my mother, father, grandparents talking and then I know I am free to cry our beautiful language to the world.
Another Elder described the VCE study as being given 'permission to speak'.

The response suggests that there will be active community involvement in the study, and adherence to agreed protocols by all participants.

Course content

Students study the following areas during Years 11 and 12:

  • The Victorian/Australian Indigenous Languages Overview. This allows students to apply parallels from other Indigenous languages to advance the reclamation of the target language
  • The skills for Language Reclamation that provides students with the knowledge and skill to retrieve and reclaim the target language using appropriate strategies and tools
  • The Creative Use of the Target Language that enables students to use the target language creatively in an ever expanding range of contemporary contexts.
Vocabulary, grammar, symbolic representations/interpretations, and culturally relevant text types are common to all three areas, but are approached from a different perspective according to function.


Students are assessed through school based assessment and, at Year 12, through external examination.

The oral components of the target language are largely assessed at the local level, a decision that is partly designed to further the reclamation of the target Language by adding resources to the target Language pool.


Implementation of units 1 and 2 (Year 11) commenced in 2004, Year 12 will commence in 2005.

The development of this study is an affirmation, at the senior secondary level, that Indigenous Languages reclamation is a desirable, worthwhile and attainable educational goal. It is a goal that should be viewed in the broader context of Australian Indigenous Linguistic and cultural aspirations, and the provision of pathways for Indigenous students through mainstream qualifications.

For further information contact Maree Dellora at the email address above, or Doris Paton, tel: 03 5120-4547

Subject Headings

Aboriginal peoples
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Language and languages