Aboriginal Languages Bill 2017

18th October 2017

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 18:09 :43 ): I commence my contribution to debate on the debate on the Aboriginal Languages Bill 2017 by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation on whose land we meet. I also pay my respects to the people of the lands I represent, the Awabakal people of the Awabakal nation. I pay my respect to elders past and present and, most importantly, to the members of the Aboriginal community who live with us today. I always like to point out that Lake Macquarie has one of the largest Aboriginal populations in New South Wales outside of the Sydney metropolitan area; it is a very important part of our community.

I acknowledge the member for Port Macquarie, and Parliamentary Secretary, who introduced this bill to the House. I acknowledge her friendship that I have enjoyed since she came to this House and the good working relationship that I had with her in her former role as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I also acknowledge the presence in the Speaker's Gallery of the current Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Hon. Sarah Mitchell, and acknowledge her work on this important piece of legislation. The bill provides a practical methodology for Aboriginal people to take control of the re-establishment of the languages that have been either lost or at risk of being lost, and does not reflect the traditional paternalism that has been the bane of the first peoples of Australia and New South Wales and in many cases brought about the loss of their language.

It has been mentioned that not allowing Aboriginal language to be used was institutionalised. There is no quicker way to destroy a people than to take away their language. The spoken language is at the core of people's understanding and it is incredibly important for the transfer of knowledge through a community that does not have a formal written language. For whatever reason, the early settlers used a very effective tool to attack the core of Aboriginal culture. Yet the strength of the Aboriginal people is such that those early settlers did not succeed. It is wonderful that so many people have retained some of their language and that through this mechanism their understanding will be strengthened.

In the Lake Macquarie area we have been dealing with this issue for some time. Many years ago I met a gentleman by the name of Darren McKenny, who was inspired to address the loss of the Awabakal language in our area. Darren McKenny is a Kamilaroi man but he was raised on Awabakal land. He felt that he wanted to do this for those peoples, and he had a very good starting point. I am not sure if many people know much of the history of the early Aboriginal settlements around our area, but Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld was a Methodist missionary who came to Australia and established a number of settlements in Lake Macquarie in the 1820s and 1830s. He became very important and basically established the first village at Belmont and was subsequently central to the establishment of Toronto—both of which are major residential and commercial centres in Lake Macquarie.

A local leader and warrior of the Awabakal people by the name of Biraban ably assisted Lancelot Threlkeld in trying to establish a mission to convert the Aborigines of the area to Christianity. I imagine Biraban was probably to Threlkeld and our area much as Bennelong was to Lachlan Macquarie and the establishment of the Sydney settlement. Biraban was obviously an influential man. He helped Lancelot Threlkeld to produce a translation of parts of the King James Bible into the Awabakal language. They collaborated on many other writings as well, including Threlkeld's interpretation of the grammar and pronunciation of Awabakal. As a result, the echoes of the Awabakal language still exist even though others tried to wipe it out. Because of a good working relationship between them, Lancelot Threlkeld and Biraban helped to retain a burning flame of the Awabakal language. I would think that members of the Aboriginal community and the surviving Awabakal people in the area would appreciate that.

The name of Biraban has been respected in my electorate. The local public school at Toronto West is named after Biraban. In addition, after the Koompahtoo Local Aboriginal Land Council was placed into administration it was ultimately resurrected under the name of Biraban. It is fitting that these names are remembered and are part of the commemoration of the Awabakal language. Once again, I pay my respects to all those people who have been involved in the development of this legislation. Other people have articulated in detail what the bill does and have referred to the wonderful ceremony held in the other place. I acknowledge the Government, the Minister and the President of the Legislative Council for doing that and for bringing in wonderful Aboriginal leaders and elders such as Dr Ray Kelly to join with members not in a subservient or patronising way, as was done in the past. Hopefully we have matured beyond that. In a very practical way this bill shows that to be the case.

It is wonderful to be able to support this bill. I also acknowledge the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the member for Wyong, who has developed a genuine working relationship with the Aboriginal community in his area and more broadly. I see things working much better in the relationships we have established with the first peoples here in New South Wales.

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